2-12 edit

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

You can’t solve an issue by hiding it. Take that approach, and the issue grows mildew and begins to stink.

In the specific issue of a higher education center in Demopolis — which fast became a community college pitted against a four-year university pitted against a city — those involved in the process requested that we close the closet doors.

“Let’s back off this one a little,” one person suggested.

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“If we can keep this out of the newspaper, it will help everyone,” another official said. “Right now, we’re not benefiting anyone by writing stories about it.”

There’s a degree of wisdom associated with those requests. If the shortest distance between Point A and Point B is the straight line, then the most efficient solution to a problem comes when Side A talks directly to Side B.

Enter “Side C” (e.g. the media), and Side A begins a dialogue with Side C, which Side B hears about, which Side B then reads about, to which Side B then offers a response — to Side C.

Confused? Good, because that’s what normally happens when Side A and Side B use the path of least efficiency to solve a problem.

In that scenario, the obvious wildcard is the willingness of the sides to communicate. When that doesn’t happen, a third party — or a mediator, or the media — has enormous value to both the players and the public.

Specifically, Alabama Southern Community College, the city of Demopolis and the University of West Alabama recently discovered the gaping quandary of miscommunication. All three admitted as much.

When members of the media entered the fray, Alabama Southern, Demopolis and UWA soon realized the imminent need to open some lines of communication.

Silly, then, that officials directly involved in this higher education center have asked members of the media to “keep this one quiet” for a while.

That, absolutely, is not the role of the press — whether newspaper, TV or radio. Muzzling the specifics of a million-dollar issue — the public’s million dollars, we might add — simply reiterates a need for more communication.

Those entrusted to manage a project that will eclipse $2 million in the next year must understand the purpose of the press in such a vital issue as this higher education center. For that matter, the public must understand the importance of communication, dialogue and ultimate resolution.

Two weeks ago, upon the media’s first report on the apparent lack of communication between Alabama Southern, Demopolis and UWA, the public’s awareness has produced significant results.

Alabama Southern, tapped to lead this project, has met with Demopolis officials. Demopolis officials have requested collaboration between those who initially agreed to collaborate. The city of Livingston has held a town meeting to discuss the impact of a potential community college 30 miles away. And the chancellor of Alabama’s community colleges, Dr. Roy Johnson, has written a letter explaining the exact role of the Demopolis higher education center. He has relieved the fear of an entire city, and brought optimism to another city on the brink of educational expansion.

Would we have achieved those accomplishments without a properly informed public? Maybe so. Maybe coincidence ruled the day.

We believe not.