By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Taunton Gazette strikes back

Taunton Gazette publisher Sean Burke accuses Taunton school superintendent Julie Hackett of stonewalling his paper on the Jesus controversy (here and here), then turning around and complaining to the Boston Globe. Burke writes:

Neither the superintendent, nor any other administration official, has as of this writing, contacted this newspaper related to charges of inaccuracies or libelous reporting. Instead, the administration has chosen to address these issues through The Boston Globe. While this is certainly the superintendent’s right, her candor with the Globe in describing the issues related to this incident not only stand in contradiction to her previous position regarding confidentiality of the student, but they appear to represent an attempt to undermine the credibility of  the Taunton Daily Gazette through The Boston Globe.

(Via Romenesko.)

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  1. anybody

    Holy smokes. Well written. Good point.

  2. Harrybosch

    “the Jesus controversy”

    Great band name.

  3. anybody

    Mike Kirby, as usual, has a most well written story about this incident in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.

  4. Joey

    Dude, you got played. This is what happens when your newspaper cheaps out, employing less experienced staff at lower pay. Any respectable editor would know that most claims of anti-religious bias are bull, and any respectable reporter probably should have been able to sniff out the dad’s money-grubbing, fame-hungry attitude.

    The Globe did, and proved how half-assed your original reporting was. Own up to it.

  5. Mike Stucka

    Joey: Gerry’s been there for at least four years. That’s a far longer stretch than many community newspapers get.

    But let’s say you’re right, and this was bull. Say Gerry thought it smelled fishy. Then what? You’re limited in the sources who can actually talk about it, and some of ’em aren’t talking about it. Do you hold on to the story indefinitely because some sources aren’t cooperating? Surely, in your broad view of Taunton Daily Gazette, you know even a single company had been operating three newspapers in the city, so the competition’s there. How would you, in your vast experience, behave?

    Please, share with us your wisdom.

    /used to work with Gerry back in the day

  6. Colin

    A lot of editors don’t care that the claims are bull. They just want something sensational — and more importantly, something to fill their pages with.

  7. Newshound

    Joey – wow.

    I wouldn’t give either the newspaper or the superintendent a passing grade on this. Perhaps, to some degree, initially, both were somewhat well intended.

    Mike Kirby did a great job admitting his paper scolded the school department in an editorial and now, the way I read it, acclaiming perhaps there was not a story here to begin with.

    Now, there are numerous stories that can be broken down into categories about school administration, privacy, public relations, journalism, child behavior, religious freedom, etc.

    I think there is plenty of blame to the superintendent, too.

    But, as I wrote in an earlier blog this morning, if a parent walks into a newspaper office announcing that their own child has been erroneously accused of wrongdoing, or had been erroneously suspected of having mischievous thoughts which were evaluated by professionals, it is a story to consider very carefully before publishing.

    Put more simply as another example, if a parent enters a newspaper office and says their child was mischievous because he set the dog house on fire and as part of the punishment wants it published in the newspaper . . . Absolutely not.

    Similarly, if a child is dealt with in school for being disruptive, or isn’t doing well with grades, we expect professional treatment, but in any case we don’t expect the teacher or superintendent to provide a public report on a private matter.

    We can wonder too, about the irony of the superintendent, of which many in general are rather careful about releasing information legally in the public domain, but questioned when it came to a test between a child’s privacy and her own defense. She was put in a position to be compliant with the Boston Globe reporter, and what she said was revealing about the other side of this story to satisfy to some degree the curiosity of public opinion, but her self-serving self defense may well expose her to criticism of her professional approach and potentially could open the door greater to financial exposure to the city – – – and we all know, even in good times, there is never enough money for education.

    A snooty, curt attitude with the Taunton Gazette is horribly inappropriate behavior for a professional and in the end is not serving the city or its citizens even if her views differ from the editor and publisher.

  8. mike_b1

    Yet another classic example of the story behind the story overwhelming the originating incident.

  9. Joey

    >>You’re limited in the sources who can actually talk about it, and some of ‘em aren’t talking about it.

    And when the sources who are talking sound crazy– as this parent did– you politely thank them for the tip and then move onto the next phone call.

    I was a community reporter for five years. I know the drill. When you get what seems like a really great story *if you can nail it down*– but then you can’t nail it down, move on. Maybe your one source who’s talking is legit, and maybe you are missing a great scoop… but probably not. Odds are that your talking source is a nutjob, with the wrong facts, wasting your time. That’s exactly what happened here.

    The Globe was more aggressive in nailing things down, and found that out. They get the kudos. The Gazette gets the fail.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Joey: As I wrote initially, I’d have been awfully tempted to run with it, and I probably would have. So this is definitely Monday-morning quarterbacking on my part. But the Gazette could have checked in with parents of classmates.

      It’s also too bad that the Gazette apparently has a difficult relationship with school officials. This would have been a good time for some trust and some off-the-record guidance as to whether there was really a story or not.

  10. Newshound

    Sometimes in the newspaper business we have to use common sense to keep everyone out of trouble including ourselves, especially if we have hints there really is no trouble.

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