Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Metro Council School Visits: More A Matter Of Journalistic Sloth At The Tennessean

After reading Tennessean Staff Writer Diane Long's piece last week on 17 Metro Council members whom she reports did not respond to the Parents Advisory Council's invitations to visit school in their districts, I was troubled to see that three of my Council members--Ludye Wallace, Adam Dread, and Diane Neighbors--were on Long's list.

Why was I so troubled? Well, it seems to me that missing an event for honest reasons is one thing. But totally failing to respond to an event planned by parents, students, and school officials might indicate that one does not care enough to listen to grassroots advocacy for public education. More to the point, it might suggest that Metro Council members might not care about the students in their communities who put forth a coordinated effort to show them how important their schools are to them.

So, I set out writing my three representatives, two of whom I voted for in the last election. Both Mr. Dread and Ms. Neighbors responded almost immediately. I have not yet heard from Mr. Wallace, which is pretty much par for the course here in District 19.

Mr. Dread insisted that he "always RSVP to invitations," and that he believes that he did not receive one. He also wrote that Council has "zero jurisdiction" over the education budget, since the school board makes those decisions. I understood the spirit of his budget argument, although I thought the adjective "zero" was disingenuous, since the Council ultimately votes up or down on the Mayor's budget, which includes the education budget. That is some measure of jurisdiction. I pointed that out to him, but it yielded no response.

Ms. Neighbors assured me that she had responded. She forwarded an e-mail from Sara Martin-Michels, Hillwood PTSO VP, saying that the Tennessean article was wrong. Martin-Michels wrote that Ms. Neighbors had responded to her request and that Ms. Neighbors had in fact told her about a budget town hall meeting.

Well, I found it just as disconcerting that I might have chastised my representatives unnecessarily because of some inaccuracies in the Tennessean. So, I followed up with Diane Long. I gave her all of the information that both Mr. Dread and Ms. Neighbors gave me. I asked if the Tennessean might make a correction to its report on at least those two. Ms. Long declined, saying,
The Tennessean always promptly replies to any situation that may need clarification or correction, but that request needs to come directly from the person involved. I have not been contacted by either Mr. Dread or Ms. Neighbors. As Council members, I'm sure they are aware of newspaper's policies and I believe both of them know that I, personally, am quick to respond to any concerns they have.
Ms. Long's last response insinuates to me that all reports are accurate, unless and until those who are the objects of the reports say otherwise. However, as a member of Ms. Long's audience (does heeding one's audience matter anymore?), I am inclined to see her report now as flawed and to chalk up her inaccuracies to lazy journalism rather than to dishonesty or lying on Mr. Dread's or Ms. Neighbor's parts. The next time Ms. Long reports something about my representatives, I'll try to double check the verity of her report before taking her at her word.

2:00 p.m. Update: The Tennessean link for Ms. Long's May 11 story is no longer active, which suggests to me that it has been moved to the archives. That means to view it, you'll have to pay the Tennessean since they charge for archived stories.

10:30 p.m. Update: Kudos to Kevin Newman, who is more adept at "googling" than I am. He has provided the link to the google cache in the comments. Click on comments and then click on Kevin's link to read Ms. Long's Tennessean article free of charge. Thanks a million, Kevin.

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