Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Newspaper editor, in town 14 months, reveals run-in with official and their meeting that resolved it

Steve Wilson, executive editor of The Paducah Sun in far Western Kentucky, has brought new energy to the daily newspaper since taking the job a little over a year ago. Wilson recently had a shouting match with a public official and decided to detail the experience for his readers to explain how the problem started and how it was resolved, with everyone coming out a winner. (Best Places map: Paducah)

"Since arriving in Paducah 14 months ago, I've been lucky," Wilson wrote on Sunday. "Former Mayor Bill Paxton and I had a bristling exchange a few months ago over my column about the city's declining population, but other than that, I can't recall another irate encounter. Until a few days ago. That's when Paducah City Commissioner Allan Rhodes called and engaged me in a raucous argument."

What "lit his fuse and prompted his call was an email I sent to him and other city officials," Wilson writes. "It asked for comment on a memo we received from Chad Chancellor, former CEO of Paducah Economic Development, chastising the city's new economic incentives policy. He is now based in New Orleans and consults with business clients looking to expand or relocate."

"I tried to make it clear I was not siding with Chancellor but wanted them to respond for a story we were writing about his critique," Wilson writes. "Rhodes, however, felt this was another slap in the face and picked up the phone. He said I was once again being too negative and dismissive of positive things going on in town. I said I've expressed high regard for Paducah, but good newspapers push their communities to do more and be more. We each cited specifics, and as the conversation went on, the decibels went higher."

"The next day Rhodes sent a text asking to meet, and I agreed," Wilson writes. "He said he would come to my office and bring coffee. I wondered whether it would be for drinking or throwing. When he arrived, we sat on opposite sides of my office table. I thanked him for the coffee and for coming over and said I would be glad to start wherever he wanted. Rhodes said he had no agenda. Then he stood up, extended his hand across the table and said what he wanted to do most was apologize. We shook hands, and two words came quickly to mind: class act."

"I told Rhodes I deserved at least half the blame and made my own apology," Wilson writes. "Then we had our best conversation yet about many issues. They included his contrarian notion that before the commission commits more than $10 million to build a new city hall, it might see if a suitable building could be rented for maybe a decade and spend those millions on a project of greater benefit to residents." He ended the column, "Thanks, Allan."

"Most newspaper editors might have kept such a conversation confidential, but when you're new to town, it's a good idea to show how you operate, and we like how Steve Wilson operates," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. The Paducah Sun is behind a paywall, but the Institute posted the editorial here.

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