Folks, I would be shocked, I tell you shocked if I thought for even a millisecond that the Seattle School District wasn’t interested in an open and transparent process where full information was provided to members of the public and press. Y’all know that broadcast network with the moniker, “we report, you decide.” Well, here is the report. Amy Rolph has a blog post at SeattlePI.Com about blogger Melissa Westbrook’s attempt to ask a question at a recent district press conference. In the post, School District to Blogger: Not A Real Journalist Rolph reports:
Melissa Westbrook has blogged about Seattle Public Schools for more than a decade. She’s written about school closures, union negotiations and performance reports on the blog Save Seattle Schools — but she’s the first to admit she’s not a professional journalist.
Until this week, Westbrook didn’t think it mattered.
She planned to attend a news conference about teacher contracts Wednesday, and called the school district’s communications office to see if she could ask questions.
The answer was no, Westbrook said. A district employee told her the news conference was for traditional journalists, meaning bloggers would have to keep mum.
“I’m a citizen journalist,” Westbrook said in an interview Friday. She later added: “A lot of people think (the blog is) always critical. My children would not have gone to public school if I didn’t believe in my district.”
Now, Westbrook wants the school district to clarify who is allowed to question officials at press events.
“They need to have in writing what is their policy,” she said.
Here’s where it gets a little muddy.
Westbrook sounded off on her blog about the snub, which prompted a reaction from several local news sites, including Publicola.com and the Stranger’s Slog. Now, the school district is saying it has a policy to let bloggers attend press briefings along with reporters from traditional media outlets.
“Our practice is to include bloggers in news releases and media roundtables, and now in press conferences,” district spokeswoman Patti Spencer said Friday.
But that wasn’t what another spokeswoman for the school district told the Stranger earlier this week. A Stranger reporter wrote:
“District spokesperson Teresa Wippel said the event was for media organizations that ‘provide unbiased coverage and subscribe to journalistic ethics.’ By that, she means ‘the types of practices outlined in the Code of Ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists,’ Wippel said. ‘It is our opinion that Ms. Westbrook’s blog does not fit into that category.’
“How do I get a subscription to journalistic ethics?” Westbrook quipped Thursday.
Clay Holtzman, president of SPJ’s Western Washington Pro Chapter, said the organization urges public officials to grant access to citizen journalists….
SPJ’s ethics code is posted here.
The recent election ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty of D.C. which means that reform minded D.C. school district chief, Michelle Rhee will be leaving as well. Both were doing outstanding jobs, in this blogger’s opinion. Why then were they ousted? Because it is always the little things that really annoy people. Neither Fenty or Rhee suffered fools gladly, and apparently, there were not enough of the little courtesies which made the political class feel acknowledged and appreciated. Are there some lessons for Seattle? There is a real issue with grass roots communications and the Seattle School District. Admittedly, some of the district’s sharpest critics not only do not speak softly, but they do carry a big stick and sometimes flamethrowers as well. The question we all have to answer is how can we have civil discourse and allow those with questions, and who may have different opinions a place at the table. That probably means that there must be some responsibility on the part of both the district and its critics to play fair in the sandbox.
Well peeps, what did you decide?
Dr. Wilda may be contacted at [email protected]
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