Hard work, thorough coverage make a community newspaper
To clarify, one of the three options (closing the middle school) had sub-options, so there were five total choices as the commenters noted.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:44 AM
When people from out of town ask what I do, I tell them I publish community newspapers. I'm not sure what they get out of that description.
Sometimes, it seems, people here aren't sure exactly what differentiates a community newspaper from other media and even I, at times, grasp to explain it. Ironically, another medium has recently helped bring definition to that description.
It's rare that I write about an issue concerning other media in our area, but in light of a manufactured controversy that questions transparency and open meeting law compliance, I feel it is warranted because people may question our newspaper - if we have had a lapse in our coverage, are protecting someone or just don't care. After all, we know people view other media than this one. We also realize that with the information overload prevalent today, people may not remember what, when or where information was reported in recent months.
The focus of the issue that gives definition to our role as a community newspaper is the Kingsland school district, which has been discussing options for building configurations since the spring of 2013. We reported on it when it first came up and dug into it over the ensuing months of discussion.
That's what a community newspaper does. It follows issues closely and reports the information so local residents can keep informed. Often, out-of-town media jump in only when a controversy arises.
Our first news reports had detailed figures with costs, how the work would be financed, the types of specific bonds that would be needed, if a voter referendum levy would be required, and the specific tax impact in dollars and cents on an average house valued at $100,000 for each of three options the district considered.
How did we get that information? Through attentiveness and hard work. We had a reporter attend several committee meetings and analyze the information presented to the board.
We had at least half a dozen articles about the process, starting with a general analysis of building options provided by an architect during a school board workshop back in May. The detailed financial information was reported in August after that information was compiled and presented to the board.
As people read our news stories, there were some concerns, particularly in Wykoff, which could lose a school building. At the November school board meeting, a Wykoff resident addressed the board with those concerns. He told the board he "was kind of upset about the things I have been reading in the paper." Since our paper was the only one reporting on this issue at the time, he was referring to the Tribune.
He brought up several points that were pertinent to any type of final decision by the board, thus that was the focus of our school board story and our lead story in the publication after the meeting.
Since our newspaper was the only one that reported the conversation, a concern with our framing of his criticism was brought up after that issue hit the newsstands. Although we took note about suggestions on possibly presenting a more comprehensive report that included some of the past information we had reported, there were no factual errors or misrepresentations, so no correction or clarification was needed in our newspaper.
About the same time, the Wykoff City Council raised concerns and that was reported as well. At that time, six months after the issue was first reported in our newspaper, there was still no other media coverage about the possibility of a change in building configuration for the Kingsland school district.
It was after that Wykoff backlash when another newspaper jumped in and decided it was time to report on this issue, kicking off the coverage with an in-depth interview of the person critical of the option that closed the Wykoff school. Since then, charges have been raised about the accuracy of financial figures and transparency of the process.
Have the figures changed? They may have, as building costs are in a constant state of flux and the process has been going on for nearly one year. However, the committee worked on costs that were current at the time they were reviewed. The board will look at detailed cost estimates in preparation for a referendum that should have current estimates when that time comes.
Are we worried about a secret agenda or lack of transparency? As we reported several months ago, the options, including the one that would shut down the school in Wykoff, would require a building referendum. You can't hide an election from the voters and we're sure the school will be pushing out loads of information in advance of any vote on this issue. A referendum would still be a long way off as there is a process for that as well.
Are we worried about violations of the open meeting law? We have had access to the information we need and don't see a problem. It isn't that we would be reluctant to pursue a violation. We have confronted local government about the open meeting law in the past - causing the cancelation of an out-of-town retreat that we felt violated the spirit of the law since it would require local citizens to travel even if the body opened it up as a public meeting. In another community we obtained legal advice on a challenge to what appeared to be a blatant violation of the open meeting law.
Why haven't we had any news about it recently? The short answer is that nothing significant- outside of an apparent feud - has occurred in the last several months since the board voted in October to go with the option of one site. As noted, the backlash from a Wykoff resident and then the Wykoff council were reported when it happened, not a month after the fact.
As any good community newspaper would do, we have presented the information over several months to give residents an idea of what school district officials are considering so they understand the process. In the future, we will give our readers information - and others a forum to object - when the time for a vote comes. If a new, real issue arises in between, we will be there to report on it.
Our goal isn't to be a mouthpiece for local government. The goal of a community newspaper is to report the news that is important to the lives of the people in a thorough and timely manner. We employ local people who have a stake in the community, are willing to work to get the information needed to inform our readers about important issues and are willing to report the bad, but also the good things that happen.
By no means are we perfect and we can't guarantee we won't miss something. But, we will always be here, right here in the community, providing you the information you need when you need it.
That's what a community newspaper does.