Social responsibility

Written by Jacque Flanagan

Warrensburg Middle School experienced a phone outage Feb. 9. The system was down for about a week, which seemed like a long period of time. As this was unfolding in our community, families in Florida were dealing with a school shooting.
Our readership includes faculty and staff who have children that attend the school district, so one of our reporters looked into the progress of the phone system’s restoration.
The R-6 administration’s response was far less than acceptable.
This surely doesn’t sound very newsworthy for your audience to me. Does the Muleskinner plan to report on every power outage, phone outage or network outage across Warrensburg?
A better story if you are supposed to be covering the school district, would be the positive impact that PBIS is having at Warrensburg Middle School and Sterling Elementary or the Exemplary Professional Learning Community awards received by Sterling Elementary and Ridge View Elementary or the selection of Dr. Lorna Cassell, Martin Warren Principal, by her West Central peers as their Distinguished Elementary Principal to represent them at the State-level and possibly compete for the National award.
About the only thing I agree with Donald Trump on is his belief that our press is out of control and irresponsible. The Press has a duty to report news….the GOOD news as well as the bad, but since the bad news sells….The Press disproportionately investigates and shares the bad new even to the point of searching for a story where one doesn’t even exist. Thus allowing legitimacy to a ridiculous term such as “fake-news.” This in turn feeds and shapes the opinions and perceptions of our society, conditioning them to search for the negative in people and institutions. I hope you are having these type of discussions in your classes in light of a nation turning away from traditional news sources.
 I will give you information on a negative story concerning the school district only if you print two positive stories first. Learn to look for the GOOD in people and institutions FIRST.
 If you still think a landline phone outage in cell phone world is worthy of your time and effort, I would suggest calling the source, Mr. Elliott.
Andy Kohl
Andy Kohl is the R-6 assistant superintendent for support services. There are several things that should be addressed in his response.
As I previously established, the newsworthiness of the story is quite relevant to our audience. Also, the Muleskinner is a paper of record, not a quid per quo, ethically compromised tabloid. We uphold journalistic integrity to publish content that holds society accountable. It’s our responsibility to record history in the most accurate way that serves our readership.
Although Kohl replied to our request, he didn’t answer our questions. So, we submitted a Sunshine Law request for documents, work orders, contracts and emails related to the phone outage. The school district’s response showed no record of work orders for the outage or communication between Kohl and the superintendent about the issue. It appears the repair work was built into an existing contract. That’s fine. That’s what we were wondering.
Kohl’s demand for positive coverage in exchange for “information on a negative story” creates distrust. There are still professional journalists working in the public’s best interest and to do that you don’t make deals in the dark for information. We’ll maintain our social responsibility as the press to act not only as a watchdog but also as a paper of record.
This means we record both the good and bad things that happen when requesting information in order to understand a situation better – whether it’s newsworthy or not – we can’t know unless we understand.
The Muleskinner isn’t going to cover every small outage that happens, to answer Kohl’s question. We cover the ones that matter.
And to address the misconception that bad news is fake news. Fake news is literally inaccurate information intended to be perceived as valid information. Just because you don’t like or agree with it does not mean its not real (this is where you’d cue climate change deniers.)
Kohl clarified his intentions for the email in a phone interview Wednesday. He said our reporting process lacked a traditional approach because we started with an email inquiry. He said he felt obligated to help guide young journalists in their learning efforts but is difficult to express in an email that lacks tone.
He said he believes transparency is inherent in his line of work, and the media should take advantage of resources like the Sunshine Law. Kohl said journalists, in their quest for information, should look beyond the bad and seek the good to better the relationship between a news outlet and the community it serves.
As a paper of record, we don’t seek to deceive the public with fake news or inaccurate information. We only seek to record what is happening, both good and bad. To be completely honest, our track record speaks for itself as far as covering positive stories in the community goes.
Our outlet will continue to document the workings of the university, Warrensburg and the surrounding communities. It’s also our responsibility to hold those in the community accountable.
So, when a public official answers one of our requests for information by telling us to write about something else, we will not apologize and go away.
Our country’s administration has made it clear it’s not really acceptable to not meet the public’s expectations and although I hate to admit it – they’re right. We should exceed the societal expectation, we owe it to each other.