In her column in Wednesday's edition, Lamar Democrat editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis criticized The Joplin Globe for its Sunday page one rumorfest about O'Sullivan Industries. She started her column by saying, "Every newspaper, and I don't care what the size, has slow news days, but I have never seen a non-tabloid newspaper use gossip to create a front page so-called story before, until an area paper recently used gossip concerning O'Sullivan Industries as the lead on the front page."
Now Mrs. Davis is an expert on slow news days, but she is right on the money about the quality of the Globe story, though her ridiculous refusal to tell what newspaper she was talking about limited the column's effect.
There were other parts of the column that made me cringe. "It is no wonder O'Sullivan's president, Bob Parker, has said he will not comment on rumors. Why should he? He and other members of the O'Sullivan management team have commented and made announcements whenever something was occurring." That quite simply is a Pollyanna attitude that has no basis in fact. Everytime bad news has come from Parker or other O'Sullivan officials, it has been accompanied with the caveat that it is all of part of some master scheme.
We lost $10 million, but that just means our plan will start bearing fruit during the fourth quarter.
We laid off 150 workers, but look at the sleep they will be able to catch up on.
I don't blame Bob Parker or the other O'Sullivan officials. It is the media's job to report on what happens, and that cannot be done when you simply sit around the office waiting for the next news release and then print it verbatim without any independent reporting. It has been almost a year since Daniel O'Sullivan, the son of O'Sullivan Industries founder Tom O"Sullivan resigned his position as chairman of the board and wrote a letter, which is a public document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, outlining some his reasons. If I remember that, that letter at one time was accessible (and may still be) through the O'Sullivan website.
Now Mrs. Davis makes an interesting point when she notes that the story coincided with a Globe telemarketing effort in Lamar, but this column comes off as sounding rather hollow. Neither the Globe nor the Democrat has done much of a service to Lamar with recent reporting on this subject.
This reminds me of another time when the Democrat took a strong stand against a Jasper County newspaper coming in and doing a scandal story about Lamar. In 1993, my fellow Carthage Press reporter Glenita Browning and I did a story about Lamar city officials wining and dining city officials across the state at the Thiebaud Auditorium and doing it illegally without a proper liquor license.
The story was interesting, though not earthshaking. There were people who were concerned, and rightfully so, about taxpayer money being spent on booze. We would not have sold many copies in Lamar, most likely, except that one city councilman went ballistic when Glenita interviewed him, taking the paranoid approach of "You're just an outside agitator causing to cause trouble," and "I don't have any comment on that," and other non-productive comments. Other city officials took the time to explain their reasoning, but the one with the problem, Councilman Doug Davis, Lamar Democrat publisher, took it further.
He wrote a page one commentary "From where I stand" in the next Lamar Democrat, using some of the same kind of words used in Mrs. Davis' column Wednesday. "It looks as if there is a smear coming." The rest of the column was in the same vein. He didn't mention The Carthage Press, but it didn't take long for people to find out what he was talking about. After that, we started selling papers briskly in Lamar and did for the next six years.