Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The incredibly shrinking newspaper

Not only did the Kenosha Unified School Board flub due diligence in failing to flesh out newly hired superintendent Michele Hancock's controversial background, but the Kenosha News was just as guilty.

Our local newspaper, like so many across the nation -- including big dailies such as the Chicago Tribune -- has been shrinking its size -- literally -- as well as content.  Some of this is inevitable as alternate delivery mechanisms have struck a hard blow at traditional newspapers, radio and television news.

One would think, though, that in a competitive environment the news content would be increased, particularly local news content. 

Today's Kenosha News story on the hiring of Dr. Hancock touches the surface -- her salary and praise for her from the board that hired her as well as the superintendent she'll replace -- but where is the background?  Had someone done a Google search a couple of weeks ago maybe they would have uncovered the WHAM-TV report on the Ebonics controversy or last weekend's Rochester newspaper story on allegations that Dr. Hancock intimidated teachers who gave a "no confidence" vote in their principal.  Maybe then the school board and the community could have "vetted" this candidate more comprehensively.

Vetting isn't completely a negative process, either.  There are positives in Dr. Hancock's experience, such as how she and her family invested long hours into literally cleaning and painting the rundown Rochester school where she became principal.  

Nonetheless the WHAM-TV report about the Ebonics controversy quickly deals the race card away.  All of the critical comments came from black students, parents and community leaders.  

True, the newspaper expressed concerns about the lack of openness in the superintendent selection process, but at the end of the day what would be so difficult about a one minute Google search or calling the Rochester newspaper and asking, "You know one of your school administrators is a finalist for superintendent here.  What do you know about her?"   That's basic journalism. 

It will be interesting to see if the newspaper follows up on this, even at this late date.  More interesting, though, is a reader comment on its web site: "I went to the websites that were referred to early in this blog and read them carefully. They were ALSO blogs, meaning that they were based on OPINIONS, not facts."

That's not always an inaccurate assessment as a general statement but in this case, if the writer was referring to this blog, the commentary was completely separate from the WHAM-TV reporting which was reprinted verbatim.  WHAM-TV is a well-regarded broadcast news operation.  The source of the story, including the reporter's name, was clearly stated here.  Hard to see how that could have been missed.

As for blogs, yes they are mixtures of opinion and fact, some more so than others.  But as traditional media sources increasily fail to do their jobs it's probably better that there are these outlets for opinion and information to fill the gap.

This nation has a rich history of blogging.  Except in the old days before computers and electronic communication the functional equivalent of blogging was practiced in public speeches and writings by the likes of Patrick Henry and in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack.  In the words of the late William T. Evjue, activist newspaper publisher, "Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well."

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