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When I settled into the editor’s desk in 2007, one of my most vocal critics was Rich Cerrato, the current mayor of Sunset Beach.
Back then Rich wasn’t an elected official. He was Average Joe Citizen who regularly attended town meetings and frequently took everyone—including this newspaper—to task.
When he felt his voice needed more than a few minutes during meetings’ public comment, he started his Taxpayers’ Digest, a document he self-publishes with a spin on all things Sunset Beach.
Rich and I went back and forth a few times in cordial but disagreeable terms about the newspaper’s position on a variety of subjects.
I tried making valid points. I tried arguing back, but made little headway.
Rich is a man of his convictions and whether I like it or not, he is happy to share them anywhere he can.
It would have been easy to stifle Rich. In one fell swoop of a delete key, I could have single-handedly kept his what-for’s out of the Beacon.
But what type of ethical journalism is that?
I decided early on he wouldn’t wear me down.
Instead of limiting his right to free speech, we decided as long as his letters to the editor meet our policy, we’d treat him the same as everyone else.
Rich often sends letters for my “consideration” and some of those get little consideration at all. Personally, I wish Rich would hash it out at town hall instead of using letters to the editor as a soapbox, but he is entitled to write them.
Publishing Rich’s letters from time-to-time appears, however, to have inflamed some Sunset Beach officials who wish we’d hush him up for good.
They say Rich’s “rants” are bad for the town’s image, and they want us to stop giving him a voice in this community paper.
Some have blamed this newspaper for the town having a “negative” image.
Sunset Beach is a beautiful, quaint little town, and it’s home to one of my most favorite area beaches. However, the fact there’s a constant back-and-forth between the mayor and other officials is news, and it’s something readers want to know.
We’d be irresponsible to brush it under the rug or pretend it’s not happening.
Each time someone from Sunset Beach has wanted to respond, they’ve been given the same opportunities as everyone else. Citizens are chiming in, writing their own letters about what they see happening in town.
On occasions I’ve even given town administrator Gary Parker the opportunity to write guest columns on our editorial pages.
Board members have written letters to the editor and are always welcome to do so.
No one is playing favorites, and certainly no one is out to harm Sunset Beach or any of the towns we cover.
Our jobs would be easier—and in many cases more enjoyable—if each story we wrote was about sunshine and rainbows.
But life isn’t just sunshine and rainbows, and often in small-town government, there are a lot of storms.
When they happen, we’re going to write about them.
The back-and-forth between the mayor and officials is one heck of a storm. Honestly, it’s getting old, and we’re ready for it to pass, but while it’s still churning, we’re going to report on it.
At the same time, we recognize responsible reporting must be based on the constant assessment that’s not all we’re writing about.
It’s imperative this newspaper seek out a balance of features and event-related stories to offset breaking news and government reporting.
We regularly welcome and encourage story suggestions from our readers.
We frequently ask people to share ideas about interesting people and good things going on in all of our communities.
I urge all of you to let me know about the good things going on in your towns, especially if you think there are things we’re missing.
I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 754-6890.
We care about the communities where we live and work, and we want to make sure everyone feels they have a voice.
I assure you, the only things we’re “out to get” are accurate, responsible, well-written stories. If we’re falling short on that, let me know, and I’ll do my best to correct it.