Generally speaking, people aren’t much interested in knowing the details in how the news gets gathered.
The newsroom lingo describing that process is called “making sausage,” which is just a way of saying that different chunks go through the grinder, then come out encased in a package for consumption
Occasionally though, some public-facing movements need explaining, and one such example was this week with the North Little Rock School District.
A rather fiery, and really ill-conceived, release from the district this week complained about news coverage, specifically, this article by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Paige Eickhorn. The piece lays out complaints about the district’s operations, all of which were aired at a school board meeting during public comment.
I don’t know nor have I met Eickhorn, but the district’s communication was a remarkable broadside against her personally as well as newsgathering in general. The release mentioned lots of “disinformation” this and “misinformation” that and came across as vaguely Trumpian even though it was missing the “fake news” catchphrase.
Then there’s this quote. Make of it what you will.
“What we will not tolerate is biased reporting. It is the ultimate form of disrespect.”
If you want to read the entire piece, click here. Be warned, it is petty and begins with what I will tell you is a bold-faced lie.
“The North Little Rock School District has enjoyed a cordial, working relationship with all members of the media,” it starts.
That’s not true. ArkansasNewsroom.com does not have a cordial, working relationship with the district. Nor did the now closed North Little Rock Times. Things worked fine enough when Ken Kirspel was superintendent and Shara Booth Brazear handled media relations. The relationship disintegrated at a rapid pace and completely imploded when the district fired then head football coach Brad Bolding. Then it, somehow, got worse.
When ArkansasNewsroom.com was launched nearly three years ago, I wanted education to be a focus and attempted to work with the North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts, as well as the local charter and private schools. Everyone but North Little Rock came along for the ride.
Getting basic information from the district is only possible when a Freedom of Information Act request is filed. That comes with a legal clock; just asking doesn’t. People can be busy, and there’s not much expectation for even prompt responses here. Such is the rhythm of writing on a weekly news cycle.
Case in point, district spokesman Dustin Barnes sent out the release about the D-G’s reporting. He has still not responded to an email on who actually wrote it. Which is, ironically, funny.
All this, I suppose, is petty on my part. But it is a real shame that the hardworking teachers and coaches and staff at North Little Rock schools are so poorly served by the district’s leadership.
Which brings us to the special called school board meeting tonight.
On the agenda, the superintendent, Gregory Pilewski, is asking for $75,000 to be spent on a “District Communication Support Plan.” The payment would go to Woodberry Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm.
The agenda item describes Woodberry as “skilled in providing strategic communication strategy … while battling episodes of misinformation and disinformation at a time of bold change and transformation.”
There’s misinformation and disinformation again.
Read the proposal here if you like.
The details are as such:
The length of the contract would be for six months at $12,500 a month beginning on Aug. 1 and ending Jan. 31, 2024.
The contract would also involve real-time social media monitoring, which seems like a lot of money to be reading Facebook posts.
All this because, “The North Little Rock School District is undertaking bold changes,” the Woodberry proposal said. “But change can be a challenge to communicate. The district must proactively convey its commitment to academic excellence while also countering disinformation. Clear, concise and timely communication is essential. So too is a compelling core message.”
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