For the Black Box article "Internet makes it possible to reach mass audience, but can we trust the messenger?" published October 26, 2017 Jennifer Jensen, publisher of johnscreekpost.com, agreed to provide background information if we provided our questions via email. Below is an exact transcript of the questions we asked and her answers, unedited.
What do you see as the role of the Johns Creek Post in the community?
Johns Creek does not have a dedicated source of news to inform the residents of the important information. Over the years we have noticed that the JC Herald omits or does not fairly represent local issues and events that we have seen occur at City Council Meetings. We feel it is important to provide another perspective for the residents.
Do you see Johns Creek Post as an alternative source to the community to tell what the city council is doing?
We are considered the SOLE SOURCE for information regarding the city. JCP is the only site that posts videos, contracts, zoning cases etc. Most other news outlets repeat the press releases of the city verbatim.
The City of Johns Creek has a 4 full-time staff dedicated to informing the residents of what they want and how they want the residents to perceive things.
As long-term invested homeowners, it is our duty and privilege to inform residents of potential issues and ongoings that would impact our quality of life and home values.
We provide a different perspective especially on important issues that affect how the City will look and feel in the future.
You post anonymous messages that are critical of the city or that have what appear to be obviously phony names (Michaela Badker, for example). Do you know the real identities of the people who make these posts? What journalistic standards do you use in printing these posts?
We do not post anonymous messages. We allow anonymous comments as do most websites on the net. I don't recall a commenter on the JCP website with that name.
The CIty of Johns Creek allows Michaela Badker (whoever that is) to comment on the City's facebook page. You should direct that question at the City Staff.
People have complained that when the post rebuttals to claims made in other posts, you take them down right away. Why do this? Wouldn’t it be better have those responses on the record?
First, you are assuming the JCP take down people's rebuttals. We do not.
We would also like to point out that the Johns Creek Herald is under no obligation to post Letters to the Editor. It is safe to say, that both the Johns Creek Post and Johns Creek Herald does not post libelous and defamatory content.
Some have said they don’t respond to posts on your site because they are afraid of “retaliation” in the form of cyber bullying or cyber harassment. What is your response to those allegations?
That is why we allow anonymous comments. It is the Residents who are afraid of retaliation from the City for speaking out about issues.
Ironically, those that have been complaining the most in the public arena have used aliases to post attacks not only against the JCP but other Council Members as well on the Johns Creek Post. We find the hypocrisy rather disturbing and unprofessional, especially from an elected official.
In response to our questions, Jensen had questions for Appen Media as well. Below is the full transcript of those questions and our answers
It frequently appears you have a very close and cozy relationship with certain elected officials in Johns Creek and other municipalities. Do you feel an obligation disclose this to the readers?
The question implies that we do not give fair or balanced information to our readers because of our relationships with elected officials. Of course we know the city’s elected officials well and regularly communicate with them – that’s been Appen Media’s job since 1990, and with the city since it was incorporated. Public officials are representatives of the people who elected them, so our ability to accurately communicate the opinions and priorities of those in office it is an asset to the Johns Creek community.
What criteria is used when the Johns Creek Herald decides to praise one council member and chide another publicly?
We report facts. We don’t take sides in our news coverage. If we do pen an opinion it is placed on our opinion pages and labeled as such with the author’s name clearly identified.
Does the Mayor automatically receive free space for opinion letters, such as who he is supporting, in elections? (Ex: John Flores endorsement)
No, but we do offer city and government officials a courtesy guest column on rare occasions if it is for the public good.
The City is on track to pay over $25k for advertising to the Appen this year, in addition to $182k in past years. With such a lucrative relationship with the city, do you feel an obligation to disclose this to the readers?
We are always happy to be transparent with government spending in our publications. It is also part of the city’s public records. Our records show the City of Johns Creek spent $18,977.50 in legal advertising as required under the law in 2015 and $18,148.75 in 2016. For display advertising (things like festivals and special events) they spent $6,628.10 in 2015 and $18,952.10 in 2016. Both numbers represent <1% of Johns Creek Herald’s revenue.
How does the revenue the JCH receives from Johns Creek affect the criticism that may or may not be made regarding important issues?
It has zero affect on our coverage. We strive to be fair and balanced and write to inform the public.
I regularly pull the FOIA records logs and have yet to see your name requesting documents in the past 2 years. How and why do you circumvent the proper method for acquiring documents with the city?
As it pertains to the city, a FOIA request is not the “proper method”. Most of the time we simply ask for the information we seek from the department responsible for the information. If there were ever a case that we were not given information that we feel the public has a right to, we would certainly make a FOIA request.
What research does the JCH do in matters such as the Traffic Lights, to affirm that indeed they are the best money can buy? Where is the documentation to support such statements?
Most purchases of equipment are done through state contracts. Georgia, like many states, submits for bid a whole range of equipment such as police cars and a range of other products that will allow it to get the best price.
The state ensures that the equipment meets its required specifications. Vendors typically allow counties and cities to participate on the state contract. Obviously, the state can negotiate a far better price than an individual city or county. The state also ensures the products are of good quality. It would be beyond our means to test and evaluate all of the equipment and materials the city buys. And rather pointless also.
Does the City of Johns Creek get to review stories before publication and offer suggestions or modifications?
No. The only times we would offer any kind of a review or partial review would be for a complicated issue like an annual budget to verify line items and numbers are accurately labeled and correct.