Breckenridge Texan

Letter to the Breckenridge Community

Letter to the Breckenridge Community
July 21
13:28 2020

Yesterday, we came within a few keystrokes of shutting down the Breckenridge Texan and deleting all of our archives from the past three years. But, at the last minute, we realize that goes against everything we believe in and stand for – that the people of this country, including this community, have a right to a free press.

What prompted our thoughts of closing down the Breckenridge Texan? The promotion on a local Facebook page of a t-shirt that said “Defund the Media.”

We know the concept didn’t start in Breckenridge, Texas, and that the t-shirt isn’t the first of its kind. But, what was most troubling to us was that within a few hours, the post had quite a few t-shirt orders and many “thumbs up” and “love” responses on the post. Not one person objected to the t-shirt. No one clicked on an “angry face” emoji. No one came to our defense and said, “I support our media! I don’t want to defund it.”

Additionally, a local organization “shared” the post, an organization that the Breckenridge Texan, Breckenridge American and KLXK/KROO radio stations are all members of. That post was deleted once we expressed our dismay, but before it was deleted, it generated several supporters, as well.

Those offering support for the t-shirts included local business owners, including some that we have supported by promoting their news, ribbon cuttings, and other events and activities. Others are parents whose children we have covered in various school activities and sports. There are teachers, coaches and other prominent community members showing their support for the sentiment.

For those who don’t realize it, the Breckenridge Texan is “the media.” The Breckenridge American is “the media.” KLXK and KROO radio stations are “the media.” The Abilene newspaper and TV stations that often drive all the way to Breckenridge to cover events here, ranging from sports to artists to breaking news events … they’re all “the media,” too.

And, we can’t speak for the other media entities in Breckenridge or elsewhere, but the two of us who work often seven days a week, including holidays, covering Breckenridge and Stephens County for the Breckenridge Texan are insulted, offended, angered…but, most of all, we are deeply saddened.

No, we’re not fragile “snowflakes” who can’t handle some criticism or even outright dislike or hatred toward our chosen profession. We deal with it every day. We’re used to some people being unhappy with the things we and other journalists publish. That’s just normal in the vein of “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

But, for so many people, especially people who we have directly helped with news and feature stories, to support such an attitude toward what we do is completely disheartening.

As champions of free speech, we certainly would never say anyone doesn’t have a right to sell or wear such a t-shirt. Of course, you can sell and/or wear that shirt. You can even sell and wear that t-shirt while taking advantage of the benefits you get from the very media you are vilifying – so long as there is a media to vilify.

But, understand, when you successfully “defund the media,” there won’t be a media for very long.

And, without the media, there would be no Buckaroo football games on the radio, no graduation sections in the newspaper, no photo galleries of the Fourth of July golf cart parades on the website. There won’t be any stories about what local government is doing, how your tax money is being spent, who’s running for office. There won’t be any stories on crimes that have been committed and criminals who have been apprehended.

Oh, sure, there will still be “social media” — as long as the social media sites everyone has their pages on aren’t hacked and shut down, or simply closed down by the owner, or censored because of the personal views of the owners.

The questions we have for those promoting the “Defund the Media” concept are “Why?” and “How?”

Why do you want to defund the media? What did the media do that was so bad that you think they shouldn’t exist? Did they publish a story you don’t agree with? Did they not publish something you agree with? Do you think the media is biased in its reporting?

Obviously, “the media” is a very large group comprising many different news and commentary organizations that range from the “Far Left” to the “Far Right.” But, most community media, including the media here in Breckenridge, are just covering what’s happening locally, no matter where or if it falls on the political spectrum. If you have a problem with a specific media outlet, aim your opinions at them directly. When you promote the idea of defunding “the media” in general, you are hurting the local media just as much as the big guys.

And, how do you think the media should be defunded? Most media is funded through advertisements. Some media is funded through subscriptions. And, some media is funded through donations. Some are funded through two or more combinations of those.

If it wasn’t so devastatingly disheartening, this campaign to “defund the media” might be funny. There is no “media fund” to defund. “Defund the media” happens every day when businesses stop advertising, residents stop subscribing and supporters stop donating.

And, what happens when the media is “defunded” that way? The media goes away; its doors are shuttered, the presses stop, the broadcasts cease, the websites become “404 Error” pages.

It happens on a regular basis nowadays. In May of this year, after 120 years in business, the Mineral Wells Index stopped being published. The city of more than 16,000 residents in a county of almost 30,000 and several communities, has no dedicated news coverage. The Index’s sister paper, the Weatherford Democrat, is covering it with a page of Mineral Wells news.

The Index joins almost 200 other Texas newspapers that have ceased to exist in the past 15 years, including the Lake Country Sun, the Merkel Mail, the Burleson Star, and many others. A report, “News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?”  by Penelope Muse Abernathy with the University of North Carolina, goes into great detail about the loss of American newspapers since 2004. You can read about it on the U.S. News Deserts website.

Research shows that when a community loses its local news source (aka the media is “defunded”), all sorts of problems can arise, including higher taxes, more government spending, less effective schools, and more. There have been many studies over the past several years on the topic, and none of them show a benefit to a community losing its local media.

For now, the Breckenridge Texan will continue to cover the news in Breckenridge and Stephens County, despite what feels like a knife in our back, because we know that having a strong media presence is what’s best for this community and the rest of the country. But, our spirits have definitely been dampened by this most recent and most local demonstration of hate toward who we are and what we do.

In closing, we’d like to ask that everyone keep something in mind…your words have meaning. They can impact what other people think and do. When you show your support for “Defund the Media,” you’re creating a negative environment for a lot of people, including residents in our own community.

— Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington


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