Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fair Coverage of Cecil Field

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fair Coverage of Cecil Field

Article excerpt

Byline: Wayne Ezell

The political battle over whether jets should return to Cecil Field illustrates the classic challenges for newspapers in the face of weighty and contentious local issues. Rule of thumb: The hotter the issue, the more complaints about the coverage.

Emissaries from both sides of the Cecil Field issue have visited the newspaper to plead for what they describe as more coverage and more fair coverage.

In late August, a delegation led by Ken Underwood, the head of Vote Jacksonville, said the newspaper had not provided "a fair and open hearing" to their side, which supports the Navy's return.

"We feel like we've been shut out here," said Ryan Banfill of Ron Sachs Communications, a public relations firm representing Vote Jacksonville.

Last week brought John Daigle Jr., who represents the Better Westside Project, which opposes the return of the jet base.

"I am getting pressure from my folks that the Times-Union is not telling our side," Daigle said. He expressed concerns about the lack of letters to the editor, the wording of a headline and the absence of detail about a judge's short-lived ruling against putting the question on the ballot.

While such visits are always welcome, the course of the newspaper's coverage was not much influenced by either meeting. In Underwood's case, he was invited to submit an op-ed piece to tell his side of the story, but it is likely that would have been published if he had submitted it without a meeting.

In Daigle's case, a letter he had submitted on behalf of opponents was printed, but the decision to print it was unrelated to the meeting.

Few topics have received as much attention by this newspaper as Cecil Field since July 2005. The local news staff covered the story aggressively after it was announced that federal officials would consider returning the jets, along with 11,000 jobs and $1 billion in payrolls, to Jacksonville.

But a turning point came last Oct. 4 when the Times-Union reported that City Hall had misled federal officials by saying no one lived in crash zones near the Navy base and that zoning restrictions had remained in place after the jets left a decade earlier. …

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