"I wrote the column and wanted to make sure some of the content was being accurately represented, and Tim sent it back to me edited and improved, so I felt ethically bound to tag him," says Benjamin, whose primary responsibility as general manager of the paper is to increase advertising revenue.
I've followed Benjamin's lead columns in The Times since he was hired as general manager in the fall of 2003. He's written a number of columns, on subjects from his take on red state and blue state politics to Hunter S. Thompson's death, that are benign and don't address a specific local community issue.
But his anti-fiber columns are the ultimate hypocrisy ' and not because of his suspect journalism or stance on the issue. The Independent Weekly has endorsed the fiber project, and I don't begrudge Benjamin his differing opinion. What bothers me about his fiber commentaries ' or any column he writes concerning the quality of life in Lafayette ' is that Benjamin doesn't live in Acadiana, and he doesn't pay taxes here. He lives in New Orleans and commutes to work.
The Independent competes with The Times for readers and advertisers, but my feelings about Benjamin's editorials aren't a gratuitous slap at our competitor or Benjamin. I take no joy from writing this column, because I like Benjamin and have some professional and personal history with him. Here's the back story.
Benjamin arrived in New Orleans just as I was leaving. He was hired as Gambit Weekly's associate publisher in March 2003. He bought a house a few blocks away from me, and after mutual car troubles, we carpooled to work on a few occasions. Between our shared interests in media, music and a love for our Lakeview neighborhood, we developed a rapport.
What I didn't tell Benjamin at the time was that I was burning to leave New Orleans and move to Acadiana. I'd already been in the Crescent City for a decade and was blessed to meet and marry a Cajun girl in New Orleans who had New Iberia roots. I had also developed close friendships with a number of people in Lafayette, and after my wife, Cindy, and I had two sons, we longed to be closer to our south Louisiana family and friends. And since I grew up in a small rural country town, I yearned to give my sons that same experience and raise them away from the omnipresent specter of New Orleans crime and a soundtrack of police sirens.
Benjamin was gracious and supportive when he heard I was leaving Gambit in August 2003 to work for The Independent Weekly. Before I left, he gave me a copy of The Chain Gang, the nationally acclaimed 1996 book by Richard McCord. (The book documents the Gannett Corporation's brutal predatory tactics against an independent publisher in Wisconsin, a terrifying case study of Gannett's corporate culture and mission to create media monopolies in the communities where it operates.) Benjamin wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was going up against by working for a start-up newspaper competing against a Gannett entity like The Times of Acadiana and to some degree its daily counterpart, The Daily Advertiser.
His gift of The Chain Gang seemed to reflect his professional values and desire to work at an independently owned newspaper like Gambit Weekly. "I think that large media corporations have tended to lose sight of the necessity of serving the reader and the advertiser, and think more of serving the investors, who very often are themselves top management," he said in the March 25, 2003, issue of Gambit Weekly. "And I think that once you lose sight of serving the 'endline consumer' ' the reader and the advertiser ' you're undermining the fourth estate."
I was taken aback when Benjamin parted ways with Gambit just six months after he was hired. (No official statement was ever issued by Gambit regarding his departure.) I was equally surprised when Benjamin took a job with Gannett as The Times of Acadiana's general manager ' in the same corporate culture he'd warned me against six months earlier.
I did empathize with Benjamin's work arrangement with The Times. He chose to stay and live in New Orleans after Gannett hired him. He told me last fall that he only stays overnight in Lafayette one or two nights a week in a hotel ' and otherwise commutes the rest of the week. One day out of the week, he has the company perk of "telecommuting" so he doesn't have to come to Lafayette at all. When I asked him again about the arrangement last week, he declined to discuss it.
I live in north Lafayette Parish in Carencro and am ineligible to vote on July 16 since the referendum is, disappointingly, only for city of Lafayette residents. According to Louisiana voter registration records, Benjamin remains registered to vote in New Orleans. And unless he stops commuting from New Orleans and makes Acadiana his home, he'll never be able to vote on any local issue affecting Lafayette and its residents.
Which is ironic, when you consider another statement Benjamin made in Gambit Weekly in 2003: "An important role in upper management of a newspaper is to be involved in the community, not just to comment on it and write about it and sell to it, but be part of it."
I asked Benjamin last week if he stood by that statement. "I am involved in the [Lafayette] community," he says. "I'm on the board of directors of the Better Business Bureau. It's a mission I believe in and enjoy doing." Finally, I asked him if he thought it was hypocritical to be writing columns on local issues when he isn't even eligible to vote in Acadiana. "Absolutely not," he says. "I'm a journalist. If I commented on the politics of China, would I have to live there to be credible?"
Lafayette and Acadiana readers will ultimately decide whether Benjamin's editorials on a community he doesn't live in are credible.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)