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Larry Lough

Newspapers can be funny (peculiar) like that

No newspaper expects everyone to agree with its decisions and opinions.

At best, we can only hope readers understand why we did what we did.

One of the reasons this column exists is to answer readers’ questions and explain our decisions.

And one reason we publish letters from readers – and allow their comments online – is to offer them the opportunity to publicly scold us, lecture us, and criticize us for our decisions.

The role and performance of a community newspaper is fair game for public debate and discussion.

We’re not hiding from anyone.

LAST WEEKEND we published an odd and interesting story from Erie, in southwestern Whiteside County.

An elementary school counselor there was named 2013 Educator of the Year by a national organization, and he even went to New York to pick up the award.

The counselor also was recognized by his alma mater, Western Illinois University.

And next month, he will go to Springfield for an event to honor top teachers around the state.

But no one at school – not the superintendent, and not the principal – wants to talk about those honors.

They would prefer other people not talk about it.

That’s what makes the story odd and interesting.

BUT READER BOB didn’t like the story.

“Divisive comments and offending those who make the decisions for the Erie schools is wrong,” he wrote in a post on our website. “[Your reporter] is very adept at fanning the flames at most small town governmental meetings; look at his past articles.

“While this may sell papers, it does nothing but harm those who live and work there.”

For the record, the story didn’t seem to cause a spike in newspaper sales last weekend.

Although it was a Page 1 story (the first three paragraphs), it was tucked in the lower right corner of the page, with most of the article continuing on Page 11.

And we have no details on how the folks in Erie might have been harmed.

Some would say any injuries were self-inflicted.

NO DOUBT, THOSE school officials in Erie were in a tough spot.

That national award, after all, was presented by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

That’s not exactly the Boy Scouts. ... Uh, maybe that’s not such a good comparison these days.

And the counselor was honored for advocating school use of “The Family Book,” which dared to suggest, “Some families have two moms or two dads.”

The school board chose not to use the book, rejecting – in a 5-3 vote – the recommendation of a school committee.

Although having multiple mothers and fathers is a common result of divorce when both parents remarry, the gay implications of “The Family Book” were too much for many people in Erie, population 1,600.

Of course, it also would be too much for many people in Dixon and Sterling and Rock Falls and ... well, just about anywhere.

Regardless of population.

NOT WANTING TO offend anyone – except maybe the school counselor – the Erie superintendent offered an official non-reaction to the national honor: “There isn’t any reaction to this award.”

The principal, with the knowledge of the superintendent, sent an email that told staff members they could not discuss the award with students.

This is just a skirmish in the ongoing “culture war” over public matters of sexual orientation.

Within days, the Illinois House is likely to send Gov. Pat Quinn a bill that he will sign to legalize gay marriage in this state.

Schools probably need a strategy for how to address such an issue with students.

Kids have a knack for asking uncomfortable questions.

SURELY YOU CAN see why a newspaper would publish a story about the Erie situation.

It’s a local anecdote about an issue of contemporary concern and controversy, statewide and nationally.

As such, it has many of the factors that – for journalists – determine whether a story is newsworthy: proximity, conflict, currency, oddity, even irony.

Does it sell newspapers? Maybe. News is the reason people buy newspapers.

We report news that we believe readers will find important and interesting.

Feel free to disagree with our decisions.

ONE MORNING THIS week, this editor received a call from a young woman with a request.

Could we keep her arrest – for retail theft – out of the newspaper?

She had asked the police, and they told her she needed to call the newspaper.

They also might have told her we don’t withhold arrests from the daily police report.

Readers might have noticed, from time to time, the names of certain staff members in that Page 2 report.

In this case, the woman’s name had appeared in the editions we published the morning she called.

We don’t try to determine whose arrest should be printed, and whose should not.

We don’t put ourselves in a position to decide which reasons are good enough to withhold a name.

To be fair to everyone, we print them all – even our own.

IN THE INTEREST OF full disclosure ...

We reported this week that the Dixon committee appointed to study local government organization has suggested the mayor and city commissioners adopt and “execute their duties to the citizens of Dixon according to a set of ethical standards.”

Such a code of ethics had been recommended last week by John Phillips of the Illinois City/County Management Association.

A member of the Dixon committee, Shaw Media CEO Tom Shaw, asked the editors of this newspaper – a product of Shaw Media – for ideas on government transparency and openness that the committee might consider.

Because the newspaper will monitor the city’s compliance with any code of ethics, we were hesitant to recommend specific provisions.

But we did suggest the committee consider the introductory language of the state’s two main public access laws – the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

That language spells out the reasons for, and public obligations of, local governing bodies.

It includes words and phrases such as public’s right to know, right to full disclosure, public interest, operate openly, and accountability, which clearly convey the principles of a citizen-focused government and the state’s intent for the laws to be interpreted liberally in favor of public access.

That would seem to be a good start for a new and improved city government in Dixon – or anywhere.

Newspapers can be funny (peculiar) like that shaw-push-component-1