Monday, June 28, 2010

And the children shall lead...

So Amherst Regional High School 'Student News' sendoff off edition (the youngsters get the summer off) was unintentionally hilarious--as the cub reporters and "executive editors" once again ended up in hot water for publishing a less than ethical episode.

After getting pounded in the blogosphere for their rude, childish portrayal of School Committee member Catherine Sanderson--a stand up publicly elected town official who happens to run a very popular blog with ratings far greater than theirs--for a piece where they repeatedly spliced together Sanderson at a School Committee meeting subtly bobbing her head to music (superimposing a spotlight so you could not miss it) with an overdub of their musical choosing.

Hey, at least she was not falling asleep!

After the fallout (in journalism that kind of video is considered doctored deliberate distortion) you would think they learned their lesson. Not in Amherst, where obviously some grown up Wizards like to manipulate marionettes from behind the curtain; so the kids decided to take another shot.

This time they generously allowed Sanderson 40 minutes of unedited airtime, which she managed to fill without having to consult cue cards (unlike their "reporter"). Considering Student News is normally a half-hour show, pretty sweet. But then later, back at the Amherst taxpayer subsidized ACTV studio, the "Executive Producers" could not resist adding another 20 minutes of editorial follow up. An ambush where the prey was not even physically present to rebut.

Obviously at their tender age they have no firsthand experience with how committees and sub committees work. A sub committee is less than a quorum of the main committee and they can meet separately and talk as long as they want pretty much about anything they want providing, the meeting is open to the public and posted 48 hours in advance.

When Catherine explained that the Union 26 issue had been discussed in subcommittee extensively but only for 10 minutes or so total by the entire School Committee who voted unanimously to consult an attorney--that is certainly no "contradiction" (wherein they suggested she lied with the introductory comment, "even if Ms Sanderson misspoke").

That's why you have subcommittees! So they can hash out details and take up far less time of the full committee.

And as this clip shows Mr. Wolfsun--and, apparently, a committee of his teen aged peers--the venerable "High School Student Advisory Committee"--took tremendous offense at an offhand comment made by a paid education consultant regarding the wisdom of letting children evaluate their teachers, prompting laughter from the audience, mostly comprised of concerned parents of Middle School kids I would imagine.

Maybe Wolfsun should have just held his breath until he turned blue.

But somehow that supposed disrespect (and I agree with the professional consultant) gets blamed on Catherine Sanderson, who I assume was in the room at the time, yet Wolfsun offers no evidence whatsoever--like a video spliced to repeatedly replay the scene--that she joined in the "laughter". The old guilt by association, paint with a broad brush routine.

And in the interest of "full disclosure" Mr. Wolfsun should have mentioned that both he and "Associate Producer" Graham Churchill (son of now somewhat discredited former School Committee Chair Andy Churchill) both graduated from their local neighborhood Marks Meadow Elementary School, the smallest of four in Amherst now closed, mainly because of Catherine Sanderson's blog. A taxpayer savings of $850,000 annually, but met with bitter resistance by those with a vested interest.

Comment to Student News: If you are going to masquerade as journalists, may I recommend "Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions" by Cecilia Friend and Jane Singer.


TomG said...

Larry, this is a fine article that covers the arc of the story very nicely with reasonable stated commentary along he way. Well done.

LarryK4 said...

Thanks Tom!

Any minute now I'm sure I will be accused of being a "bully"(although probably by an Anon, so who the hell cares).

Anonymous said...

Larry, mention that Andy Churchill is a UMASS PROFESSOR! He actually is the Assistant Director for the Center for Educational Policy!

Larry, grow a pair and stop bashing UMass students and start bashing UMass faculty....

LarryK4 said...

Yeah but he's not a member of the Umass $100-K club so he can't be all that splendiferous.

And the kids from 'Student News' are not Umass kids--they are High School kids.

I'm an equal opportunity basher.

And of course I particularly love to bash Cowardly Anon Nitwits who don't have the balls to leave their real name on a little old blog.

Anonymous said...

I hear the pre-school is doing a video, perhaps you should bash them too. Give me a break.

bach said...

"And of course I particularly love to bash Cowardly Anon Nitwits who don't have the balls to leave their real name on a little old blog."

bunch of cold hearted pussies

Anonymous said...

bash Cowardly Anon Nitwits who don't have the balls to leave their real name on a little old blog.

Sometimes there are too many negative consequences for doing so.

This is Amherst, after all, I have kids in the schools, do you want me to subject them to retaliation?

LarryK4 said...

I suppose if the 7:54 PM Comment had anything to do with the venerable Amherst Schools that excuse would hold.

S.P. Sullivan said...

Take it easy on the cub reporters, Larry

I won't pretend to be initiated enough with the history of this controversy, but I was once a high school newspaper editor, and we thought it our duty to point out how silly and hypocritical the grownups were being. We were often silly and hypocritical ourselves, but that's why it's called student journalism.

And for the record, I didn't see the dancing Sanderson video, but that doesn't sound like "doctored deliberate distortion" to me. It sounds like parody. The litmus test is, Would any reasonable person mistake this for reality? It doesn't seem that way to me.

Not saying your criticisms aren't valid. But let us make call this a teachable moment, not high journalistic treason.

The Friend and Singer book is great, by the way. So is Kelly McBride's "Everday Ethics":

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, let's hope these teachable moments make them better reporters/editors before graduating to the Daily Collegian.

Anonymous said...

It's a "teachable moment" for the adults, but there is absolutely no indication that it's a "teachable moment" for the students. Because like so much of the polarized media, they are conditioned to do whatever ad hominem rejection of other points of view is necessary. In short, they aren't listening.

And if it were the silliness and hypocrisy of adults that they were going after, that would be more fun. But what the producers of Student News are expressing is primarily fear, fear of change, fear that some blessed status quo will be taken from them and future kids by people like Ms. Sanderson. (The biggest irony is that Ms. Sanderson is very much one of the keenest listeners the students have.) So this is what makes this thoroughly different from our student days.

Why the fear? Because the only input that students perceive as driving progress is MONEY, not reflection, not inquiry, not deliberation, not reorganization. For them, it's "show us the money". And, because Ms. Sanderson was not out front on the override, they view her as a threat.

They've bought the argument hook, line, and sinker that the only direction for the schools to go at current funding levels is DOWN. Nothing else matters.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Students are indeed better at evaluating their teachers than you might think. We know when we aren't learning anything...

Amanda said...

Let's be honest, Larry. Until I see some equal bashing of a different program--in short, until I see evidence that you aren't bashing Riverwolf Productions merely because it's run by students--I know that I, along with a good portion of the Amherst community, am not going to take this blog seriously. You sound like a bitter old man who can't find anything better to do with his free time than pick on people who are thirty years younger than you. Grow a pair.

And yes, I'm leaving my name on here. I'm no "Cowardly Anon Nitwit". You jerk.

LarryK4 said...

Well, gee there Amanda--spoken like a true High School kid. Obviously you have not been paying attention over these past 25 years or so.

And I wonder how many "Amanda"s there are in the vicinity?

Anonymous said...

Amanda hasn't been following.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, it shows.

You would hope the adults will intervene at some point very soon and reign them in (but since they have an agenda...probably not.)

Ed said...

Why the fear? Because the only input that students perceive as driving progress is MONEY, not reflection, not inquiry, not deliberation, not reorganization.

No, it is far deeper than that.

You could probably tell me your "win/loss" ratio with some degree of accuracy - you have confidence from the feedback from various judges. Someone in business has the "bottom line" and knows how things are going from there.

The problem with education (and medicine) is that there is no true direct feedback, let alone accountability, for most of what you do. What is a good 10th grade English teacher versus a bad one -- and do you evaluate the education then or 10 years later?

So first you have people who aren't themselves convinced they are doing a good job and thus can tolerate nothing but positive support. Second, you have some who are afraid of what true accountability would find, and third those worried about being held accountable.

Anyone who is different (i.e. not a member of the clique) is a threat to the group. Anyone who is both different and advocating change is truly terrifying.

And further, Education itself is changing. People outside the traditional SoE model (remember Catherine is Psychology, Steve Rifkin is Economics) are coming into the field which is truly terrifying the traditionalists.

Standards are being tightened in the ed schools as well -- and many of the people with EdDs on the ARSD payroll wouldn't stand a chance of earning one now. And they are terrified that someone is going to realize that.

It is not just money, it is a fear that a bright light might show lots of unflattering things in the corners....

Anonymous said...

With regards to skewering adult hypocrisy, the kids can take a teachable moment from this blog posting. You take offense at these 15/16 year olds mocking a publicly elected, hard working town official. Isn't the whole point of this blog to mock, deride, embarrass and "discredit" publicly elected, hard working town officials? I guess your message is that they need to lay off the one you like. Pay attention kids, Uncle Larry has an important lesson for you.
Cowardly Anon Nitwit private citizen who has been bashed by your blog

LarryK4 said...

Actually I would not bash a "private citizen" only those that become public (such as the 15/16 year olds who like to mock, apparently, only one public official.)

Although I do like to bash Cowardly Anon Nitwits like yourself (who may or may not be private citizens) at every opportunity, which theses days seems almost hourly.

Tommy Jefferson said...


You are not reporting anything here. However, you are editorializing on the issue. Your opinions are all over this piece.

Last time I looked, that is not reporting.

Look at the value laden language all over the piece.

I'm sure you would receive a C at best for this opinionated work that you're trying to pass off as journalism.

Reporting the news is just that, a report.

Ed said...

Best part of whole thing, in prior newscast: "why would high school students pour Vodka into their eyes?" Ummm... because they are drunk???

That was an "attack interview" and while Catherine did well, it was by no means objective. Don't look at the responses, only look at the questions.

And one other thing - developmentally there is a difference between an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old -- and a reason why we let one have a car and the other not...

LarryK4 said...

Hey Mr. Jefferson (liked that Declaration thing you wrote.)

This post was not a newsreport it was a blog post. Big difference. It was not part of my Journalism assignment.

I try to clearly mark those the same way a bricks and mortar newspaper differentiates between 'Opinion/Editorial' and 'News' or 'Advertising' for that matter.

My next assignment will be up soon and it will be labeled simply, "Journalism Ethics #3" (not a very catchy headline, but I also do that on purpose.)