Vail Daily’s Don Rogers: We’re not school district’s enemy
Vail, CO, Colorado
I missed the memo when it first came out. A teacher sent it to our Gypsum office, and it took awhile to reach me.
It came with a letter from the teacher thanking us for covering the more controversial issues facing the school board and administration, as well as commentaries that have been a little critical of some of their actions.
Also enclosed, sadly enough, was a three-page memo from the district superintendent — two pages of which were an oblique criticism of the paper and basically purporting to set the record straight.
Not a biggie. The snippets of actual news in the memo have run in the paper. And twists in the sausage-making machinery known as school board meetings that didn’t make the paper rightfully belong in the board minutes, where anyone who is that interested can read all (yawn) about it.
Boards often believe that journalists should sit through meetings up to eight hours long and report faithfully on everything members said and did.
But news is about sifting for the gold rather than grinding up the whole streambed, catching the tip of the iceberg rather than the mass beneath, plucking out the most relevant and/or interesting news rather than acting as another secretary performing stenography.
Besides, if you want to see the whole show, they don’t even charge at the door.
So, yes, the teacher or two courageous enough to argue publicly with the school board will tend to get more ink — because that’s news — than lengthy discussions without resolution, or each turn of the crank that forms policy. The board “being extremely receptive to the ideas presented,” etc., is nice and all — and has its place in administrative memos and the board’s minutes. It’s just not exactly fertile ground for stories that the fuller body of readers will find most relevant to their lives.
The superintendent’s memo and a new set of “Fact Check” documents make a point of suggesting that they correct “misinformation” in the newspaper and from other sources. But what I’ve read so far isn’t so much correcting “facts” as trying to parse information that was reported accurately, though perhaps not with the emphasis the district might have preferred.
One interesting one has to do with the district spending less on administration compared to total funding (the “fact” is not clear on the precise comparison) than the state average for school districts. The Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Daily had this very information in a story about rather large pay increases since 2006 in some administrative positions.
The author of the story quoted the school district’s human resources director explaining why he thought pointing out these facts was unfair. In other words, she gave him full voice to explain his position, too.
So the “Fact Check” is not correcting anything. It’s, um, a clever piece of misinformation itself.
Now, there is a “Fact” in the same document that makes a point of explaining that “mentor teachers receive a $4,500 stipend (NOT a $5,000 stipend) …,” which I presume the local newspaper must have gotten wrong.
The school folks know our policy is to correct factual errors promptly on Page One. Our aim is to get it right as we learn that we made a mistake. And I know that of our many sins, one of them isn’t really a failure to correct mistakes promptly. Still, it helps to know if we got something wrong.
I’m not at all concerned with the school district trying different means of communicating their story their way. They know they have access to guest columns, letters to the editor, Town Talk, press releases and page one corrections for genuine errors. We’re far from their enemy. (I also give the district full credit for how well my kids turned out academically and as people.)
And with nine of 10 people in our valley reading the paper, I’m reasonably confident that their best means of reaching out to the full public beyond their immediate circle is through the Vail Daily.
My concern is with the energy expended in reacting defensively to what I consider fairly light criticism, the need to repeat facts that are not in contention as if they were, and a public hint of lashing out that some district employees have reported in a cooling relationship with their leaders.
I just think these folks have more important things to accomplish than dissing the paper and their critics.
Remember the children? How about truly focusing on them?
This course seems a little off that path.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2920.