Monday, September 08, 2008

The Most Powerful Force In A Community

If I could choose any power available to mortal men these days I know exactly which power I would choose. I'm not speaking of x-ray vision, or the ability to spin spider stuff out my wrists, I mean the normal powers other folks may have.

Think about it for a moment. If you had the power to control anything you desired, what would it be? What would you choose to control if you wanted to exercise maximum influence over your community or your state?

Pause while the theme music from "Jeopardy" plays softly in the background...

Did you choose the power to control how money is spent in your community or state? Hah! Pitifully small thinking on your part, for the power I would choose could trump that easily.

Or perhaps you chose the power to determine who wins which election. Again, you're thinking way too small.

Martinsville is like many small towns, and it's surrounded by Henry County, a not very heavily populated county. Many here think that everything is controlled by some cabal of "local leaders" who conspire to hold growth in check. That thought has been prevalent here from the days of A.L.Philpott, who did work to preserve the low cost of employees for the local businesses. Bassett, Stanley, Hooker, and American Furniture all depended upon that low cost of labor, as did the several textile companies that began as small locally owned concerns. That low labor cost would surely have risen sharply should a larger national manufacturing company locate here.

The local politicians did their duty, they protected the home-grown industry and we were all happy. More or less.

A.L. and Dan Daniel are gone now, yet there is still a force here in Martinsville that wields all (or most) of the power.

Have you guessed what power I'm speaking of yet? It's pretty simple, really. It's a power that most of us complain about on a fairly regular basis, whether we be conservative or liberal.

The power to control information is the most powerful control anyone can have over a community. Here in Martinsville and Henry County that power is held in the hands of two or three people. The private owners of the only area newspaper. If those few people decide that a subject will not be given coverage in the Martinsville Bulletin, then it does not appear there. If they decide that coverage of an event or story should go one way or the other, that is the way it will slant. Period.

Sure, we have the Roanoke Times, but it is not widely read by the average local resident, the Richmond Times Dispatch even less so. We also have a handful of local radio stations, but I dare say they receive even less attention than the Roanoke Times. Then there are the TV stations. (Full disclosure, I have been known to host or co-host a show on occasion at one of these stations.) Two of the local TV stations have extremely small audiences, the third has a much wider audience, but is only now beginning to overcome a reputation earned years ago in the days of some really bad journalism.

In the final analysis, it's the Martinsville Bulletin that most people here turn to for their daily information. Information that is meted out in a manner decided upon by only a few.

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