"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.
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.