I’ve been the education reporter at Sauk Valley Media for about 3 weeks, and I’ve already been asked the same question more than once.
Why doesn’t the newspaper write more positive stories about our school district?
It’s not just here. In my last reporting job at The Hawk Eye newspaper in Burlington, Iowa, I had board members and school officials give me a hard time because they believed I was not promoting the positive news in the school district. One staff member once said I was “picking on the school district.”
Whenever people ask me why I don’t write about the positives in their school district, they immediately jump to their own conclusions, such as I want to write only negative stories, or I want to sell newspapers.
As a news reporter, I have a hard time categorizing a news story as “positive” or “negative.”
In my opinion, stories are categorized as newsworthy or not newsworthy.
Whenever I write a story, many factors determine whether it’s newsworthy. One thing I’ll look at is how many parents, students or staff members will the story affect, and what kind of impact will be made? Or how useful or critical is the information in helping the public to make an informed decision about their school system?
More important, as an education reporter, I want to know whether this information is likely to help or harm student achievement in the school district.
For example, if an area school district is going to implement an after-school program, that can help many students. That is a story I will write.
If board members or teachers criticize school officials by saying they are not doing enough to help increase student achievement, that’s also important for the public to know. I will write that story.
It doesn’t matter to me whether these stories are perceived as positive or negative. They are newsworthy.
So, I might write stories that some people don’t like. However, if it’s newsworthy and people are interested, I will write about it.
At the same time, if you know of a student or teacher doing something extraordinary in the classroom, I’ll write about that, too.
Some of the stories I have written that could be considered positive include the opening of two middle schools, a social-studies teacher who had a student qualify in the Iowa State Geography Bee 5 years in a row, and a student who was a finalist in a Google Doodle contest.
However, I’ve also written stories about a community college basketball team forfeiting its season, and students getting suspended for bullying or for writing rap lyrics about sex and smoking weed. I’ve also written numerous stories about budget cuts.
As reporters, we are limited by time and resources. Because of that, I won’t be able to cover every news item. Because of that, people might think I am avoiding “positive coverage.” Truth is, news is coming from a bunch of schools in this area, and I’m the only one covering education.
One thing that I have noticed is people remember stories about bullying and budget cuts longer than stories about a student qualifying for a state spelling bee. I could write nine stories about students winning state competitions, but if I write one story about a student getting bullied, that story will be remembered longer.
I’ve been in town for only 3 weeks, so I don’t know too much about the history between Sauk Valley Media and local school systems.
I ask teachers, administrators and support staff to give me a clean slate.
When you see me in the hallways this fall, it might not be for a bad thing. Not all news stories are negative.
Jermaine can be reached at (815) 625-3600, ext. 5525, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Jermaine on Twitter @JPigee84.