The Shot Heard Round City Hall
In the Oct. 22 issue of Up & Coming Weekly, Publisher Bill Bowman wrote an editorial that ricocheted throughout Fayetteville City Hall. The editorial, titled “Voorhees Vigilantes: Lemmings in Pursuit of the Golden Goose,” discussed the law suit pending between the City of Fayetteville and PWC. More specifically, it discussed the money grab for PWC funds by City Manager Ted Voorhees.
Bowman has never been shy about expressing his opinions, which often cause a great deal of debate within the community. People either love them or hate them, which usually results in spirited discussion between the local citizenry and their elected leaders. That kind of discussion makes for an involved and informed community. In this case, Manager Voorhees was not amused and acted quickly to try and silence Bowman and Up & Coming Weekly in a move that flies in face of the 1st Amendment and its establishment of a free press that is not controlled or stifled by the government.
Voorhees’ retaliation for Bowman’s editorial was swift, and came in the form of a letter from the city’s Corporate Communications Director Tracie Davis. The letter was short and to the point:
“This letter is to inform you that as of October 29, 2014, the City of Fayetteville will be suspending its participation in Up & Coming Weekly for the foreseeable future. We will also cease publication of our bi-weekly FOCUS On Fayetteville section. Please remove any ads or sponsorships dealing with the City of Fayetteville from future editions of Up & Coming Weekly, beginning with the Nov. 5 issue.”
No discussion. No warning. In the matter of a week, Up & Coming Weekly went from a valued city partner to persona non grata. And all of this was done by one man with no input or consent by the Fayetteville City Council. They, in fact, were blind sided by the move, and were unaware of it until Monday, Nov. 10, when I filed a public information request with the City of Fayetteville for all communications concerning Up & Coming Weekly. (A request that to date has not been fulfilled.)
When Voorhees was questioned about this action by Mayor Nat Robertson during the city’s working meeting that night, Voorhees stumbled over his words. Trying to explain his actions by first saying the city was reviewing all media partnerships, but eventually getting to the point, noting “Recently, it’s come to our attention again whether this is a vehicle (UCW) that is providing value. It’s clearly got an editorial bias that doesn’t seem to be supportive of the city — I don’t know if we need to be participating in that.”
Did you catch that? If the newspaper doesn’t agree with the city, then the city should not “participate” in the newspaper. Mr. Voorhees, do you realize what you said? We do. The community does. You basically said, “If we can’t control the paper, we will lock it out.”
That, Mr. Voorhees, is the definition of the government trying to control the press. I am not alone in that belief. The North Carolina Press Association believes that, as does their legal staff. All freedom-loving citizens of Fayetteville will see your play for what it is: an attempt to silence the media and violate the First Amendment.
Voorhees is now changing his talking point, questioning whether Up & Coming Weekly is a legitimate means of communicating with the community. He noted in the same meeting that while his staff hasn’t done any research on it, that they will. They just feel it isn’t a good partner.
We can save the city staff time and money. The research has already been done by legitimate media review sources like the Circulation Verification Council, which is an independent, third-party reporting audit company that audits thousands of newspapers nationwide to give an accurate picture of a publication’s reach and market penetration. Up & Coming Weekly has top numbers throughout our community for its reach. It has been done by the Convention and Visitors Bureau awhile back, when its community survey found that Up & Coming Weekly was one of the most read publications in the community and source for news — beating out the daily newspaper. The research has been done by the myriad of community partners we have maintained throughout our 20 -year history.
Mr. Voorhees, if you want to come at us, come at us with more than “feelings” and with something more than questioning our legitimacy. We are a legitimate newspaper. We have been proud members of the North Carolina Press Association for many years, with Publisher Bill Bowman sitting on its board, alongside Charles Broadwell, the publisher of The Fayetteville Observer.
We have the numbers. We have the facts, and we’ve got your number, too. If you want to come at us, don’t do it by treading on the 1st Amendment. While you might not appreciate it, you are living in a community that is built on the backs of men and women who have fought, bled and died to defend our Constitution — and the freedom of the press.