Reader may be buying his last Times copy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Editor’s Note: The following is a letter from a reader concerning an arrest over the Labor Day holiday. The Times normally does not reply to letters directly in print, but we have today included Publisher Jonathan McElvy’s reply to the writer of the letter.

Dear Editor,

I think that I have just bought my last Demopolis Times, 9/7/04 edition. By being too afraid to print this incident you are in my opinion giving tacit approval to the very act that Mr. Sutton committed. I am sure that with your help in keeping the lid on this newsworthy item and the help from Mayor Vice along with the County Serriff’s Dept. Mr. Sutton will come out of this smelling

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like a rose. Had this happened to anyone else of any significance you would have it on the front page


your paper and the Democrat

Reporter would make a living from it for at least a month or more. Please read the following comments in case you haven’t already. If you had been cited for the same offense, you can bet you would be front page in Linden.

I really would like a response to this but I certainly don’t expect it.

Ralph Pruitt

Mr. Pruitt:

I appreciate the time you took to give us your opinion about the lack of coverage concerning Goodloe Sutton’s arrest in the Tuesday edition. I would like to address some of the points you made, in an attempt, if for nothing else, than to have you reconsider your buying habits.

While our office had a reporter here for most of the day Monday (Labor Day), all government offices were closed – including the Demopolis Police Department. While it is important to report news in a timely fashion, we’re often limited by the ability to receive “official” information from our government bodies. In this case, the Demopolis Police Department had no one who would comment about Mr. Sutton’s arrest on Monday. For that matter, we couldn’t even get anyone from the police department to comment about holiday wrecks.

Our newspaper – like most others in the nation – has a policy that we must always have credible sources before a story is printed. Yes, it would be simple to report what we’ve heard, but that is poor journalism and something we cannot do. Also know that I’m not indicting the police department for its policy. Law enforcement officials have a chain of command that must be respected – for reasons you and I probably don’t understand.

With that said, we have every intention of reporting Mr. Sutton’s arrest, just as we would do for any other public figure. I’m writing the story, and you’ll be interested to know that I still have been unable to get an interview with Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel today. Jeff and many other members of the police department are in training today.

I know this may be a difficult situation to understand, but it’s the reality of the news business. Next time you read a newspaper (minus the D-R), or the next time you watch a TV news broadcast, consider surveying how many stories are printed or aired without a named source.

If you think about it, our reasons line up with most any other business. A good salesperson doesn’t order a product until a costumer confirms the order. A good lawyer doesn’t file a lawsuit until a plaintiff agrees and signs a piece of paper. A good doctor doesn’t operate until tests confirm the diagnosis. A good construction company doesn’t build a bridge until an architect and an engineer approve the plans. A good newspaper doesn’t report an event until that event is officially confirmed.

There’s one other topic I’d like to address. Since I took the job as publisher of this paper two years ago, I have not once compared The Times with the Democrat-Reporter. What Mr. Sutton does with his paper is his business. If he chooses to libel or slander someone, that has no bearing on how I’ll run The Times. If he plays a story across the top of the page, and I play the story differently, I could care less. How and where Goodloe would run a story about me if I were cited for the same offense has no bearing on how I run this newspaper.

I don’t mean that to sound spiteful, but you must know that I believe in our news product and I am convinced we put out the best newspaper in Demopolis, Marengo County and the Black Belt region. Yes, we have continuous improvements to make, but we’re on the right track.

Again, thanks for the constructive criticism. It obviously has been considered.

Jonathan McElvy