Other Opinions

Here’s why I am sending holiday cheer to Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes

Blake Kaplan
Blake Kaplan

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes took to Facebook on Christmas Day to vent his frustration at the Sun Herald.

Hewes was upset about one of the stories we put on the front page, headlined “Murders, mayhem and corruption top local news for 2016.” He felt it was an inappropriate story for Christmas morning, and that, in general, our news organization does not do enough to promote positive aspects of the Coast.

Hewes’ post, which included an original poem based on “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” spread quickly on Facebook, getting more than 150 comments and almost 700 likes. But the conversation in the comments on the post took a wider turn, with people weighing in on the amount of “positive” news we publish and the validity of the Sun Herald as a reputable news organization.

As the executive editor of the Sun Herald, I would like to respond. I’ll take each point separately.

The Christmas Day front page: I wish I had a do-over here. I should not have scheduled our top local news stories of 2016 for that day. I could have made a story about a Santa in Wiggins, also on Sunday’s front page, the main story on the page, which would have made A1 more appropriate for Christmas. I apologize to readers.

How much positive news we run: In his Facebook post, Hewes says “we continue to ask media outlets to be our partner in promoting the good in our communities.” I’d argue we do just that.

Here are some headlines that ran on our front page in the last few months:

▪  Angels bless 600 needy Coast kids.

▪  Coast man gives airmen a taste of hospitality.

▪  Why Gulfport police will visit a girl who lives 1,800 miles away.

▪  Ocean Springs boy gets a sweet ride and his own Cruisin’ event.

The mayor’s job, like any other politician, is to promote the good in his city, and I’ll give credit to Hewes — he’s darn good at it. Our job, though, is to decide what is news and then report it, whether it be good, bad or otherwise. But to make blanket statements that we just focus on the bad is, I believe, an unfair assessment.

The validity of the Sun Herald: It’s easy to hate on a media organization these days, with President-elect Donald Trump constantly claiming the media is corrupt and unfair. But here at the Sun Herald, I am privileged each day to work with the most dedicated and passionate journalists to be found in Mississippi.

If you’ve been around the Coast for a while, you know the Sun Herald does important work.

It was just a few years ago when the Sun Herald exposed a slush fund and questionable purchases made by staff at the Department of Marine Resources. Many of the people we wrote about are now in jail. The Sun Herald also has been the first to write about law officers gone bad, including the indictment of ex-Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd and the controversial traffic stop of former Moss Point Police Chief Art McClung.

All of these were “bad” news stories, but they turned out to do a world of good.

One might think I would be angry or embarrassed about the mayor’s Facebook post attacking the Sun Herald, but in the spirit of the season, I would like to send the good mayor some holiday cheer.

He’s opened up a conversation about what constitutes good journalism. I think that is a conversation worth having. I live for that conversation, as I love my job and my 25-year career in journalism. So, dear reader, call me at 228-896-2327 or email me at bmkaplan@sunherald.com, and we’ll get to talking.

Blake Kaplan is vice president and executive editor of the Sun Herald. Contact him at 228-896-2327, @Blake_Kaplan