To those who follow the local newspaper industry, it should come as no surprise that Gannett, the Virginia-based corporation that owns The Daily Times and several weekly papers in the area, is suing the Town of Ocean City.
The company’s disconnection with the community it allegedly serves has never been more obvious than with this cold and ridiculous legal action.
If this matter actually goes to court, Gannett may prevail, but that’s not enough for this national media company. Gannett has requested the town pay its legal fees should it be successful in court. That further illustrates the major disconnect between the company and the community. If successful, this could end up costing taxpayers a great deal of money that should never be spent.
The town should release the name of the drowning victim, according to Maryland public records law, but there is some gray area as far as whether it’s illegal to not release the person’s identity. The problem is the town would not release requested police records on the incident and that denial will probably decide the case. It will likely be more about that rejection than specifically withholding the deceased’s actual name.
In our opinion, this is an unfortunate fight. If Gannett wins, the city will be forced to release the police records and the name will be revealed. The name ironically enough was easily discoverable on social media within hours of the person’s death with some simple modern reporting techniques. We know the deceased’s name and surely the staff over at Gannett has been able to find out as well.
If Gannett prevails, it’s uncertain whether it will then publish the name in its publications. If it does, the family, which asked the town to not release the teen’s name after this summer’s drowning, will suffer further heartache than it has already experienced. It’s easy to hide behind the First Amendment in this case, but a community-minded business would not lead this battle.
There are plenty of other areas the media could be critical of Ocean City. For instance, the city has often hidden behind the “it’s a personnel matter” cover when asked about specific, unflattering incidents involving employees. There are times when we disagree when public information requests are denied. Surely, Gannett has shared those opinions on various matters over the years. The point is there are other challenges available to prove the point, and they would not cause a grieving family more unnecessary pain.
In an editorial, The Daily Times Executive Editor Michael Kilian wrote, “This action is unfortunately necessary given the town of Ocean City’s willful decision to flout Maryland public records law. Our sympathies continue to go out to the family that suffered an unfathomable loss in the June drowning. Sadly, Ocean City has chosen to drag out needlessly public attention to this tragedy by failing in its obligation to release basic police report information to citizens.”
Most of the media is on Gannett’s side and The Baltimore Sun opined similarly in an editorial on Tuesday. It wrote the principle of the lawsuit is “whether a government agency can withhold information for whatever noble intention you may want to offer. As the law states, all persons ‘are entitled to have access to information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.’”
We do not agree. Call us soft and too sensitive, but this is not a situation that merits legal action. A harsh editorial critical of the town’s stance would be fine, but taking it to court is too much and clearly this is more about the publication company than the town. Seeking reimbursement for legal expenses is despicable as well.
It’s obvious The Daily Times and its smaller publications relish the spotlight received with this silly charade that exposes a misguided moral compass. The publications have become largely irrelevant on the shore, and the embarrassingly diminutive hardcopy editions confirm that on a daily basis. The downward spiral to community irrelevance continues with this misguided legal action.