Friday, July 19, 2013

Profit Over Product

I sent this Op-ed to the Herald-Leader this week. Any chance they'll run it? I can think of a few reasons they might not. Is the H-L willing (or permitted) to allow criticism of their parent company?

But it is an important public issue and I'll bet no one understands it better than the demoted, reorganized, surviving reporters.

What's Newsworthy?

It appears that former Herald-Leader and Los Angeles Times Editor John Carroll was on to something when he predicted, in 2006, that outsized profit expectations in the newspaper industry would have a destructive effect on the quality of journalism. Seven years and several rounds of newsroom layoffs later – all in the service of maximized profits - its effects can be seen in education reporting on [the pages of the Herald-Leader]. 

When Rosalind Hurley-Richards received the $25,000 Milliken Educator Award in 1996 it was news and the Herald-Leader ran a story about Commissioner Wilmer Cody’s visit to Squires Elementary School for the award presentation. When she was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year for 1997 for her “real world” approach to teaching, it was news again and the Herald-Leader followed her progress as a national finalist. In 1997, the paper reported that Hurley-Richards was directing her own program at the Preparatory Academy at Lexington, and that she was speaking at a conference for African-American career women in 1998.

Even before his arrival as Superintendent of the Fayette County schools, the Herald-Leader was reporting on Stu Silberman’s success in Daviess County, his interest in the state education commissioner’s post, and more. Beginning in 1999 the paper ran hundreds of stories about Silberman and his work in the local schools. 

But for some reason, it was not news – or at least, the Herald-Leader did not cover it - when in 2009 Silberman suspended and dismissed Hurley-Richards for “conduct unbecoming a teacher" after she disciplined an unruly child in the hallway at Cardinal Valley Elementary School. What circumstances could have led to such a shocking event? Herald-Leader readers may never know. 

By the time the Kentucky Supreme Court vindicated Hurley-Richards in April (no story) - in what Fayette County Education Association officials were calling a landmark case – she had been through an administrative hearing (no story), Fayette County Circuit Court (no story), and the Kentucky Court of Appeals (no story).  

Was the lack of coverage an editorial decision, or simply a lack of newsroom resources?

When a teacher’s aide crashed her car on Georgetown Street and was charged with a DUI recently, H-L ran the story, and printed her name. But when Fayette County schools Director of Human Resources Melodee Parker did the same thing downtown in 2011, there was no story. 

On Kentucky School News and Commentary...these and other unreported stories have caused some public school parents to entertain wild speculations about the quality of Herald-Leader reporters, and possible motives for the paper reporting, or not reporting, certain stories. Some question whether the paper is protecting the school district by passing on certain embarrassing stories. Others have suggested that the district pays off reporters. Readers are confused, and these speculations are very unfortunate. 

I suspect the real answer lies elsewhere. 

Even before The Great Recession damaged economic conditions globally, journalism professionals were already recoiling from historically high profit expectations from their parent corporations. As Carroll warned, continued expectations for twenty percent profit margins in the newspaper industry would have destructive effects on the quality of journalism. “At a 20 percent margin, I feel strongly that we are cashing in the paper's future in favor of current earnings," Carroll told NewsHour. In the battle between those who see themselves as serving the shareholders, and those who see themselves serving the readers - the shareholders are winning. 

I am very concerned about what news corporations have done to newsrooms and I believe there are qualitative deficiencies in today's coverage that are leaving the community in the dark on too many important topics. One is left with the impression that the few remaining reporters are too often unaware of what’s going on, or ill-equipped to do anything about it. But McClatchy is still insisting that the Herald-Leader produce a return somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Apparently shareholders care less about high quality coverage than lining their own pockets, and the net effect is harmful to democracy.


Anonymous said...

Richard, this is wonderful. Tell me whether it gets published. I genuinely belive that as overworked as Jim Warren is, there is anecdotal evidence that H-L was told they had run too many superintendents out of town and that for one to stay, they needed to stop criticizing Central Office. This is exactly what they have done. You know as well as I that one of the most important cases involving a teacher--- was deliberately not covered. As it stands, I'm asking you, because I work at Central Office, to ask for the legal fees that were incurred by the Lexington taxpayers to fight against a distinguished black educator.

The Herald Leader is baised in favor of both Shelton and Silberman. I think there is much truth to thsi fact if you start asking questions.

Bravo on you op-ed piece.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider sending thsi to the Courier Journal?

Anonymous said...

I really hope this story gets published. Anyone can get the records if they request an open records request from the Fayette County Board of Education. The names may be crossed out, but then you could take the case number to the courthouse. At that time you will have a case number to work with and can learn all the details.

The Lexington Herald Leader would of had this knowledge. The problem is the attorney hires the same hearing officer for the administrative hearings (Ms. Merritt). She can only rule the same way as the superintendent.

The circuit court more than likely will follow her course of action and not over turn the decision. So to win these cases everyone has to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. This is how dirty the system is set up. The Fayette County School Board attorney shouldn't have this much power. (Chenoweth)

There is some information about this case on the internet for those of you that our interested. It's not fair, and the system needs a good change. This attorney should not be allowed to pick the same hearing officer for his cases. Then the hearing officer should have the right to decide if the punishment should be changed or not. Without this system being changed the hearings are a waste of time and money. To me it's a little funny that the hearing officer rules for him almost every time. No wonder he keeps using her over and over again.

I personally think everything should be published so the citizens can see what goes on behind the closed doors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the lastreviewer. I work at Central Office andhave a relative in the schools. All Open Records request Must include the Name of the requester. They get my Name, all of a sudden the trouble Starts.

Tagen they maky Job so Bad, i have to leave.

Anonymous said...

Don't kid yourselves, understaffed or not, newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers - not being even handed in their coverage or sometimes even accuracy of their information.

Front page of Kentucky section today had more Trayvon Martin reaction. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, it will eventually get replaced with something else which editors feel will sell papers - it is just a matter of time.

Richard Day said...

July 20, 2013 at 8:20 PM: Thanks for your kind words, and for understanding that I wasn’t taking a shot at Jim Warren. Jim and I have covered a couple of stories at the same time and I usually find his reports to cover all of the basic information, and the gist, very effectively and faster than I do. He’s a pro. I just wish he was given the time to dig in.

The issue of legal fees has been bouncing around in the back of my mind since Stu bough himself a quickie report, that promised to save the district $$$$, and then used it to dump Brenda Allen, but ultimately had to pay her $200K to keep quiet and etc., etc…

One of these days perhaps.

July 20, 2013 at 8:25 PM: Probably not. Although, I think C-J has the same issues. Toni Konz is covering crime too.

July 20, 2013 at 8:50 PM: “The problem is the attorney hires the same hearing officer for the administrative hearings (Ms. Merritt). She can only rule the same way as the superintendent.”

I am unfamiliar with this. Do you mean for Tribunals? Tell us more.

For what it’s worth – the Hurley-Richard’s Tribunal did not side with the district.

Anonymous said...

I am talking about the Classified Employee Hearings. I realize Ms. Hurley-Richards is a teacher. With most of these cases school employees have to take their cases all the way to the Supreme Court or otherwise they will not prevail.

Mr. Chenoweth arranges to have Ms. Joyce Merritt for all the hearings as his hearing officer. In Fayette County and surrounding counties, it seems that she will always rule with the school districts. The KEA and their attorneys are aware of this practice. Therefore the hearings are a worthless feel good procedure.

Mr. Chenoweth could choose any hearing officer, but almost always picks her. The arrangement is that she can not change the rulings of the superintendent. We have witnessed this first hand.

The classified employees do not get a hearing with their peers. They pay the same dues to the KEA as the certified employees, but do not receive the same treatment. How is this fair to any classified employee?

Anonymous said...

Tribunals do not apply to classified staff. I agree with the letter writer Mr. Day is questioning(i.e. Ms. Merritt rules for any superintendent every time). I wish we did know why this is happening. How the heck is that fair to a custodian or a secretary who has been terminated and is seeking compensation? I know from experience that KEA DROPS THE CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEE AFTER THE FAKE HEARING IF THEY FEEL THEY WILL LOOSE OR IT WILL COST THEM TOO MUCH. KEA officials have said as much in a meeting to try to do some damage control and keep the money rolling in. I would love to see any KY newspaper journalist do some real research on this subject. It is a hidden story. You might win the Nobel Prize.