EDITOR’S DESK: Running with the gaggle
It was everything that nobody likes about the media. |
For months a group of volunteer citizens, in conjunction with School District 11 officials, had been quietly studying the district's demographics, including building usages and enrollment trends. No one in the media had noticed or cared - even though all the meetings were public. After all, there were murders and wars and Britney and various other scintillating subjects to write about. Who cared about a bunch of school volunteers digging through student enrollment numbers and suchlike?
Here's how below the radar screen this group was. It is one of three subcommittees reporting to a committee (the Long Range School Use - LRSUS - Task Force) that will then consider the reports and make recommendations to the Board of Education.
Yet all of a sudden last Thursday, Feb. 5, the Utilization Subcommittee became the most important thing in Colorado Springs. Why? Because one or more anonymous people started phoning and faxing newspapers and television stations with a report that six schools - including Pike, Whittier and Ivywild elementaries on the Westside - were in danger of closure.
And so, when the subcommittee presented its report that night, a pack (or would it be a gaggle?) of media was on hand, as well as some worried-looking parents who'd evidently heard the rumor by then.
The TV stations were up to their usual tricks. They listened to the subcommittee presentation for a while, then (apparently getting bored) pulled back to the hallway, picking off anyone from the meeting who looked irate or quotable. Hey, why spend time digging into technicalities when it's so easy to pluck shallow emotional heartstrings?
True, few issues can touch the nerve of a community more painfully than a proposed school closure. Westsider Pamela Staley, a member of the subcommittee who volunteers for extracurricular gardening and Scout activities at various schools, said that when she showed up at Ivywild School the next day, “They (teachers) just turned around and walked away from me.”
It didn't have to be this way. The media could have/ should have waited for the LRSUS subcommittees to compare their reports and at least come up with a considered recommendation for the school board. After all, the subcommittee's results, as painstakingly researched as they were (come by the paper and look at a copy of the report, if you care to), could still be softened or countermanded by as-yet-unheard ideas from one of the other subcommittees. But no. Thanks to apparently one anonymous person (who told the Westside Pioneer she was motivated by fears that a “family member” would be laid off), the report of an otherwise-obscure subcommittee wound up being reported prematurely and getting blown out of proportion.
It will be interesting in the weeks and months and ahead. And no doubt, the subcommittee proposal would have surfaced at some point. But it's too bad it came out the way it did, because it added extra emotion to an issue that is guaranteed to have plenty, anyway - thanks to the media's eagerness to jump to the tune of an unidentified news source. And yes, the Westside Pioneer also showed up at that Feb. 5 meeting, pen in hand. Just one more in the journalism pack… but trying not to be of it.