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8-18-04 Media Coverage in Oconee County

The Internet phenomenon has changed the political landscape tremendously.  Email has allowed a sophisticated citizenry to communicate with Email Groups  and to instantly respond to erroneous reports in the printed media.   In time, more citizens (voters) will be using this means to be informed about things….



August 15, 2004


Media Coverage Needs Improving in Oconee County


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


During the recent election cycle, newer citizens and voters got some introduction to the “schizophrenic” local news coverage.  Some were disappointed in contradictions and “info-commercial” type reports.   Veteran residents have grown used to it.


The Athens papers use a lot of young students or graduates of the Journalism school.  They come and go.  Many are well-intentioned but are naïve and easily misled.  (Believe me, in Politics there are many “manure spreaders”—false rumors and gossip).   I have often described the coverage as sophomoric.  The Editorial Page of the Athens Banner-Herald has been much more balanced on Oconee Matters during this election cycle.  See AB-H  August 15 Editorial, GROWTH ISSUES HAVE IGNITED….. http://onlineathens.com/stories/081504/opi_20040815016.shtml


AB-H 8-15-04 Editorial Excerpt:  “….And, no doubt, some long for a return to the good ol' days when any kind of growth was good, county officials rarely had to endure an intense glare of public oversight and residents seemed more content trusting their government to act in everyone's best interest.

For better or worse, those days are gone. The Pandora's box of growth issues was flung open with a vengeance in Oconee County, and it isn't likely to be closed any time soon.

In fact, the presence of community advocacy groups and the growing activism of neighborhood associations practically ensures the public debate over the county's current and future growth will continue long after this summer's elections are a distant memory.

New and incumbent members of the Board of Commissioners should expect continued public scrutiny of every land use policy, development proposal and board appointment. It's been a long, tense political summer already, but the atmosphere in Oconee County could grow even hotter.

Long ago, in public office (26 years as Elected and Appointed), I realized Citizens did not know all useful information on government.   This insight and knowledge prompted me to use a newsletter format to communicate with many citizens.  I used personal funds and found the Newsletter to be a counter-balance to the deficiencies of local coverage.  AVOC and The Quarterly Review was started to allow some forum that was not controlled by emotion, advertising and special interests.  Obviously, my opinions come through but I attempt to present facts and I do draw from 30 years of experience and insight in local government.


The efficiency of media coverage comes and goes.  Oconee County is presently hurting for effective media news coverage.  The local weekly is a volatile reporting vehicle for mostly gossip and misinformation.  Often, the publisher has emotional problems with some individuals and it colors everything it reports. 


The Weekly had problems with “Old Oconee” in the early 90’s over the “Roach Era”, when Oconee’s Sheriff was incarcerated in a Federal Prison in Alabama for a year while still in office.   Some citizens rallied emotionally for him.  Others wanted to recall him. 


As Chairman, I had a tough balancing act.  I worked closely with the Acting Sheriff, Al Fielding.  The local weekly paper got personally involved with an emotional hatred of Roach and his supporters.   Much of the coverage carried that bias.  The “Roach Supporters” hated Vinnie Williams with a passion!!   Some started a new newspaper, The Oconee Arrow.   It was interesting during the recent election cycle to observe that the local  Weekly endorsed some of the “Roach Supporters” and how they sought her support. (My How Times Have Changed!)   Long-time readers and observers know how fickle that support really is.


In more recent years, the Weekly has been “trashing me”.   While the paper was generally supportive during my 12 years in office, it turned to outright vitriolic hatred toward me.   I was as surprised as anyone.   Some say that the root was in my “Retirement Announcement” being made first in the Athens Newspapers.   A very vitriolic, emotional over-the-edge editorial was published about me the next week.  While some took public issue with the Weekly’s position, the vitriol has continued to this day.  I realize that my political and personal enemies have enjoyed and encouraged it.  (Ironically, some of the “Roach Supporters” see it as a quid pro quo for me!)   Most citizens know that I am not as good or as bad as the Weekly has claimed over the years.  Many folks recognized many positive accomplishments during my public service era.


However, since I left office, any rumor, outrageous claim or criticism is printed without any input from me and with absolutely no balance.  Whether one likes me or not or liked Roach or not, this type of attempt at “publishing assassination” is bad for our community.   Most long-time readers know you cannot trust the reports or opinions in our local Weekly because of bias and mean-spiritedness.


However, as a long-time critic of distorted and incomplete news coverage, I am encouraged with the “Changing Times”.   Many factors are involved:  economic (we are not a farm county anymore), education (more Oconee residents are  better educated); cultural (not all of us are products of the farm or rural protestant churches of the South-  and more business sophistication) and mostly the advent of the Internet.


The Internet phenomenon has changed the political landscape tremendously.  That is good in many respects and can be bad if loose, angry information is put out in and irresponsible fashion.  Email has allowed a sophisticated citizenry to communicate with Email Groups  and to instantly respond to erroneous reports in the printed media.   In time, more citizens (voters) will be using this means to be informed about things.


There are many Internet Links, besides AVOC.info and OnLineAthens.com to help citizens stay informed.  I use many frequently.  Below are some that are available:









          Good Newspaper with news on Barrow County and

              GA 316: http://www.gwinnettdailyonline.com/