By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
It’s hard to characterize editorial writers in a general sense. Some write to make persuasive arguments. Others muse about issues of public interest. And, of course, there are those who appear to simply want to smack down an individual, organization or activity.
Like anyone who attempts to take a set of facts and convey a message, they make mistakes. Sometimes they’re writing from an original article that was missing important facts. And, yes, sometimes it’s a “Facts be damned” approach.
When a journalist messes up, you’ve got a right to decide whether the error is significant enough to address – or if it’s nothing to lose sleep over. For example, is it really all that important for me to call every reporter who calls KSBA the Kentucky School Board (no “s”) Association?
Editorial errors, however, tend to carry a different weight, especially if the aggrieved party is hacked off at the opinion writer’s statements. But the right remains to act or let it go.
A couple of recent examples offer insights into both choices.
Not the whole story
A pro-expanded gaming group issued a news release – with KSBA’s permission – saying that the association supports putting a constitutional amendment on expanding gaming up for a vote by the public. Now, KSBA’s position isn’t new. In fact, KSBA has supported putting the gaming issue on the ballot – not pro or con, just up for Kentuckians to vote on – for the past four years. Always, the position has been about creating more state revenues to adequately fund K-12 schools.
But the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer attacked KSBA for even supporting a public vote, at the end of an editorial headlined, “State won’t win with expanded gaming.”
“Sadly, the Kentucky School Boards Association announced the same day that it was backing “Kentucky Wins!” – a pro-casino group that is attempting to bring expanded gambling to the commonwealth.
“Apparently, teaching students to be responsible with money is not part of the KSBA’s mission.”
We chose not to address the editorial. Obviously, this nonprofit service organization doesn’t influence classroom instruction. And while KSBA is all about students learning to make the right decisions, the issue is really about adult decisions, not choices by students. In the end, the gaming organization’s news release got little public attention, and we didn’t think the editorial merited a rebuttal on our part.
But the reaction and response was different for Clark County Schools’ leaders, past and present, when the Bowling Green Daily News editorialized on a superintendent pay story originated by the Louisville Courier-Journal. That story focused on a few local boards that raised superintendent pay significantly in the past five years – a tough budgetary time for school districts. During that period, the largest increase in pay for the superintendency was in Clark County.
The Bowling Green editorial writer noted the Clark County increase, and then took a more general shot at the state’s boards and superintendents: “Clearly, politics is involved in some of these decisions. Politics should have no place in education. Any superintendent with substantial character or leadership should decline these offers.”
Retired Clark County Schools Superintendent Elaine Farris wasted little time in responding with a letter to the editor. She stated that the school board chose to raise the salary when she was hired, and that she got the same salary benefits as all other employees during her tenure with the district.
Right next to Farris’ letter was one by Clark County school board member Judy Hicks. She explained that a superintendent’s salary “is based not only on the salary of the previous superintendent, but also on the level of education, years of experience and other factors that are published when the selection criteria are developed.”
Farris and Hicks also sent their letters to other papers that carried stories about the superintendent pay issue.
The Last Word
The next time a media opinion writer messes up, remember you have the option to take it up with the writer – privately or in a public response – or let it slide.
The phrase “media relations” suggests a two-way street between journalists and those they cover. It doesn’t mean that you never “fight the person who buys ink by the barrel,” but sometimes, letting it slide can do more to maintain those relationships for the long run.
It’s your choice. And it’s a message worth getting out.