Home » OPINION » Columns » JACK WEATHERLY — Saying no to the press is the wrong order

JACK WEATHERLY — Saying no to the press is the wrong order

JACK WEATHERLY

It’s not often a retailer will turn down free publicity.

But I was rebuffed the other day when I attempted to write something about Cook Out, a fast-food restaurant chain that just opened a store on High Street.

It happens to be located on the street I take twice each work day, to and from the Journal offices downtown.

Um, I wondered – as reporters are prone to do – is that a story?

The eatery is located on a strip of High that already has five fast-food places in within two blocks – Taco Bell, Arby’s, Wendy’s, Whataburger, a gas station-ensconced Subway — and a fast-casual Waffle House.

So plenty of competition.

On the south side of High is the sprawling Mississippi Fairgrounds with the Mississippi Coliseum and the Mississippi Trade Mart. A feast-or-famine source of potential customers.

A few blocks north is the stylish old Belhaven neighborhood.

This doesn’t strike me as a place where Belhaven residents would prefer.

But somebody is eating there. Lots of somebodies.

Lunchtime traffic is bumper-to-bumper. So the Cook Out staff assists motorists by expediting drive-through orders, thus “keeping the cars out of the street.”

That was what Wes Reed, the regional manager for Mississippi, told me.

Otherwise, the only other thing Reed told me as I stood with my notebook in hand was I “can’t report” on the restaurant.

Taken aback, I asked why I couldn’t.

Because we say so, he said unsmilingly.

He relented a bit, saying I could try headquarters in Greensboro, N.C. and ask for Megan, who likewise told me there was no interest in a story.

A story that would include the fact on the corporate website that shows more than 200 of the restaurants across the South, including ones in Starkville, Oxford and Hattiesburg.

Right. They can refuse to cooperate. It’s a free country. But it’s also a free country with a free press, thanks to the First Amendment, even it’s just a story about a hamburger stand.

Before I was told on site that I couldn’t report, I already eaten there.

I got the wrong order. But I didn’t complain. Maybe I should have, but I had already peeked beneath the foil, broken the seal, so to speak. So I started eating my Cajun grilled chicken sandwich and Cajun chicken wrap.

A nice waitress came by my table to inform me of what I already knew.

She said I could finish eating what I had, or not, but she would bring me the double burger, slaw and fries I had ordered, no extra charge.

The construction worker whose lunch I was eating evidently didn’t want to swap.

As I left, I was told: no story. That was the second wrong order of the day for me.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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