As an editor not much surprises me these days. And I don’t always expect to be universally loved.
Any news organization that regularly reports on governmental bodies of any sort, be they law enforcement agencies, elected bodies, or school districts will ruffle feathers. It comes with the territory.
And to be honest, we’re aware that we’ve regularly ruffled the feathers of the school district.
But I’ve come to expect a degree of professionalism from the spokespeople for agencies, boards, and other institutions that should be accountable to the public. And in the overwhelming number of cases, public officials and staff live up to that expectation.
So imagine my surprise when, in response to a routine request for comment to the Cobb County School District, I received the following response, along with the usual message to attribute it to “a district spokesperson.”
The message was as follows:
“Due to ongoing concerns with accuracy in reporting, the Cobb County School District will not provide response to the Cobb County Courier’s request for comment.”
Now think about this for a few moments.
Here’s the text of the email containing the questions they refused to answer:
“I’ve gotten a press release from a local organization about the incidents at Pope and Lassiter highs.
Does the school district consider them antisemitic incidents?
Could the district give me a comment on that (whether or not you think they are incidents of antisemitism?)”
Those questions are pretty benign in the grand scheme of things (although the second question was not the most clearly written thing I’ve ever crafted).
And here’s something else to think about.
The school district has never once contacted the Courier to request a correction on a story. The school district has never once asked for a retraction of any story from us.
When we are contacted by any organization or individual with a request for correction we take it seriously, and if we determine that we wrote something in error, we run a correction, which is standard practice for news organizations.
This is an educational institution. They should be teaching students about critical thinking, honesty, transparency, communication skills and how to clearly answer simple questions.
Part of communication is expressing ideas fully. In this case they’ve made an assertion (“Due to ongoing concerns with accuracy in reporting”) with no attempt to state what it is they think we have reported inaccurately.
Our intent moving forward
So what do we intend to do about this? Nothing different.
We are going to do exactly as we’ve always done. When we are about to publish a story involving the Cobb County School District we will reach out to them for comment.
It’s the professional thing to do.
And we hope the CCSD behaves professionally in return. But the district should regroup a bit and decide if the response they gave to our request for comment was a professional response coming from an organization that feels a sense of accountability to the public.
So the ball is in their court. They can answer us, not answer us, insult us or send our requests to their spam folders. But we’ll continue to ask them questions, file open records requests, and do those things news organizations do routinely.