What To Do When the Press Doesn’t Do Their Job

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Once again, the HSD 1J Board of Directors voted on action items without the witness of the Fourth Estate. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but it pains me to think that the patrons of the school district cannot read about or hear the news of our activities right from the reporters who were there on the front line.

Please understand that anything you read in the paper or hear about on the radio, or see and hear on TV about what follows is at least third hand. In other words, the reporter, who should have witnessed this meeting with their own eyes and ears to be able to report somewhat objectively, is getting the information through a second party’s filters, and who knows how objective that is?

You might wonder why I am disappointed in the press’s lack of ability to report the actions of the District’s Board of Directors. Here’s why: If they don’t report, and I don’t blog, patrons have to wait a month or so until the next regular meeting when we approve the minutes of the prior meeting (the one that wasn’t reported on) to find out what the heck happened at the meeting a month ago. And then patrons won’t find out unless they jump on the internet and go to the District’s web site.

The District does its part to keep patrons informed, but without the press, there’s a big delay. I’m trying to stand in that gap. Don’t throw praise or money, just call Clark Gallagher at The Argus (503-648-1131), and the education editor (if they still have one) at The Oregonian, (503-221-8525) and tell him or her you want some coverage.

From this point on, I’ll let you know exactly what we voted to do or not do. To catch up on what went on at a previous meetings, go here. We didn’t have any reporters at those meetings either.

11OCT2010: There used to be a bunch of links that went to HSD 1J’s Board page, but they have been updated and tracking them is a waste of time. Just check out Straight Talk or the District’s Board update (I will leave it to you to find that url, since it changes too often for my taste).

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5 thoughts on “What To Do When the Press Doesn’t Do Their Job

  1. Here’s some straight talk:

    Could it be possible that the Fourth Estate is struggling to fulfill its civic duty because it’s under siege financially, in part because of blogsters and internet information sites that offer lots of opinion and no real reporting?

    What happens to our Democracy when everyone’s desire for “free” news and, largely, opinion, undermines the ability for real reporters to do their jobs — or even have jobs?

    Is it possible that the Fourth Estate is missing meetings because there are fewer of them around? And is it only going to get worse as layoffs, buyouts, cutbacks and downsizing continue?

    Some excellent points.

    I’ve thought of the economic angle, fewer media jobs and all that, but if people really are reading blogs instead of press reporting and opinion (I do not consider blogs to be “press”), the press has no one to blame but themselves for doing, or being perceived as doing, a crummy job.

    By “crummy job,” I’m referring to slanted journalism that mixes opinion with reporting, poorly researched opinion pieces that beg for evisceration, and concentrating on sensationalism rather that what people need to know about what’s going on around them, e.g., public agencies like the school district. Yes, I know that a hot story sells papers, but we need some balance.

    I’ve taught journalism to freshmen in high school, and advised the school paper, yearbook, and magazine. That doesn’t make me a pro or an “expert” journalist, but the background and experience left me with open eyes. –Hugh

  2. Unrelated to this post: Thanks for the drop-by. Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on there, but it really, really doesn’t sound good over at CTG.

    Looks interesting over here. I think I’ll take a look around!

    Yes, the censors are doing their short-sighted thing. I’m glad nobody can fire me, and I don’t have to accept clients I don’t like.

    Welcome to RepairKit. –Hugh

  3. Not trying to pound you, Hugh, but how do you reconcile these two statements you made?

    1: “Once again, the HSD 1J Board of Directors voted on action items without the witness of the Fourth Estate. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but it pains me to think that the patrons of the school district cannot read about or hear the news of our activities right from the reporters who were there on the front line.”
    2. “I’ve thought of the economic angle, fewer media jobs and all that, but if people really are reading blogs instead of press reporting and opinion (I do not consider blogs to be “press”), the press has no one to blame but themselves for doing, or being perceived as doing, a crummy job.”

    No, those reporters covering the Hillsboro schools weren’t doing a crummy job, Hugh. They were just trying to do their job, which was write about Hillsboro schools and the issues important to the community. And because there were enough of them at the time, the local FourthEstate could devote a reporter to just Hillsboro schools. Now, a handful of reporters are trying to do what nearly two-dozen did before. So what gives? Government coverage? Schools? Police? Politics? You pick.

    Frankly, little of this has to do with “media bias,” although I’m not arguing that there isn’t such a thing. It has to do with the economic model failing. Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. had a column today about this very thing (http://www.miamiherald.com/living/columnists/leonard-pitts/story/761681.html).

    Here’s the critical point of this discussion, as Pitts framed it:

    “Yes, I know. Some of you see the slow death of newspapers as wholly deserved. In this thinking, readers are fed up with coverage that tilts too far to the left. Others will call it proof that readers are sick of coverage that kowtows too much to the right. Still others will see it as a reminder that literacy is declining on both ends of the political spectrum and all points between. …”

    “… Still, I submit that the loss of this or any other newspaper represents more than the loss of a particular news platform in a world with no shortage of the same.

    “You see, your local news station will keep you up to date when there’s blood on the sidewalk or a new report on how lettuce can give you eye cancer. And cable news will recap big national stories and provide 24/7 coverage of the latest missing co-ed. But only a newspaper reporter will dig through the mayor’s garbage on your behalf.

    “That is, only newspapers routinely fill the function of government watchdog, particularly at the state and local level. Only a newspaper will detach a reporter to spend three, four, six months following a paper trail, documenting kickbacks, conflicts of interest, shady deals in the statehouse or the White House. And if you agree that an informed electorate is essential to a democracy, the danger of losing that should be as appalling as it is apparent.”

    Are you ready to fill that void, Hugh? Because when you’re done chiding the FourthEstate for not being at your school board meeting, then deriding them for how they did it in the first place, are you going to be the one to tell us what’s going on? And if so, are you ready to be called out for how and what you report?

    FourthEstateFan, the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings. And I really do appreciate the time and thought you’ve put into this reply. Although you said you don’t want to pound me, you did a pretty fair job of pounding in your final paragraph. :D

    Let’s go back to what I said…“but if people really are reading blogs instead of press reporting and opinion (I do not consider blogs to be “press”), the press has no one to blame but themselves for doing, or being perceived as doing, a crummy job.”

    Don’t you see that I’m talking about people choosing blogs over the press? I’m not talking about all local reporters doing a crummy job. I don’t believe bloggers can attract enough of an audience to stand a chance against a consistently excellent watchdog press. But the press gets distracted, and, I believe, often abandons their ace in the hole, namely deep, significant, and literate reporting of governmental and business affairs that affect our quality of life.

    You said, “Are you ready to fill that void, Hugh? Because when you’re done chiding the FourthEstate for not being at your school board meeting, then deriding them for how they did it in the first place, are you going to be the one to tell us what’s going on? And if so, are you ready to be called out for how and what you report?”

    Unless I’m mistaken, I did state that I will fill the void left by the absence of the press in that I’ll report on the results of agenda action items that would otherwise take about a month to learn about via approved school board minutes. That is a modest void. Any “calling out” of yours truly would be pretty tame, and the “official” facts would verify my report a month later. Go for it.

    Now tell me, which reporter who covers school events have I derided? Not Susan Gordanier, because she doesn’t cover the school district (although she did take some lumps for a quadruple mudball opinion piece last year). I recall correcting a mistake an Argus school reporter made, but I don’t recall making a big deal out of it. Certainly not a big enough deal to badmouth the press and start blogging to fill the gap, although I did then perceive the beginnings of a gap.

    I also am a Fourth Estate fan, FourthEstateFan. I really like that part above where you had me picturing Clark Kent or Lois Lane digging “through the mayor’s garbage on [my] behalf.” We need the press, not a million internet-savvy narcissists who imagine themselves members of The Fourth Estate.

    You also said, “So what gives? Government coverage? Schools? Police? Politics? You pick.”

    Here’s my pick: follow the money as it goes out of the citizens pockets and into the coffers of local government, and then out again into the accounts of vendors and contractors. Make sure it all smells like roses and nobody’s got conflicts of interest. How’s that for starters?

    Rather than engage me in debate, how about we (mostly you and Clark Gallagher) think creatively about how the press can survive and still serve the watchdog function with federal, state, and local governments. (AP can help with the first two.)

    Again, thanks for showing some interest in school affairs. It’s more than the local press can do.
    –Hugh

  4. Hi Hugh —

    I have no connection to the Argus, in case you were wondering. I don’t know what your criticism of them has been in the past. I only know what you’re saying now. And that started with your comment about “the press’s lack of ability to report the actions of the District’s Board of Directors.”

    Now you’re saying you’re not arguing about ability or lack thereof. And I didn’t ask you to pick what you would cover, but what you would give up. It appears the local FourthEstate has been forced to make that choice for you and it’s chosen the Hillsboro School District. I don’t blame them, they only have so much money to pay so many reporters.

    So, I don’t think you should spend much more time wondering where the local reporters are who used to cover the Hillsboro school board. They’re unemployed now, and there are no replacements.

    In the meantime, we’ll all look forward to your postings of agenda material, not that we can’t get that on the district’s website.

    Good luck to you.

    Thanks for the good wishes, FEF. But if you wait for Board voting results on agenda action items to appear on the on the District’s web site (about thirty days), they will no longer be “news.” I can post them the same evening. That is news! ;)
    –Hugh

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