Lou Nell was the editor who gave me my first real opportunity in journalism, hiring me as sports editor of the Lamar Daily Democrat in 1978. In addition to covering Lamar sports, I worked as a general assignment reporter and one of my duties was covering the school board.
Not one board member ever revealed anything to me that happened \in closed session, but I learned quickly that what Lou Nell said was on target. Those same board members would talk to their friends in the community during a mid-morning stop at the doughnut shop or over lunch at the Blue Top Cafe.
During the eight months I worked at the Democrat before I was transferred to become the editor of the weekly Lockwood Luminary-Golden City Herald, Lou Nell also taught me the importance of developing working relationships with everyone. Many reporters, she said, took the lazy way out. If they were covering schools, they talked to the principals and superintendent. If they were covering city councils, they talked to the mayor, the city administrator or city council members.
If you want to know what is really going on in the school district, you talk to the teachers, the secretaries, the janitors, the kids, and the parents.
I never had much of a chance to develop these kinds of sources in 1978, but after I returned to the Democrat as managing editor in 1982 and ever since then, I have followed Lou Nell's advice and it has worked out well for me and for my readers.
When I have beaten the Joplin Globe on major news stories over the past few years, it has often been because I have been practicing what I learned from people like Lou Nell Clark.
I thought about those early days in my journalism career Sunday as I read the Joplin Globe's page one "investigative report" on the lack of confidentiality on the Joplin R-8 Board of Education. I wrote about the article Saturday night after I read it online, but it appears that I am not adept at navigating the Globe's website. My post only covered the first part of the Globe article because that was all I had read at that point. I did not even reach the part where the Globe allowed former board members Mike Landis, Randy Steele, and Shawn McGrew to level accusations against board member Debbie Fort and former board member Jim Kimbrough,
Now that I have read the complete article in the print edition, my contempt for the Joplin Globe continues to grow.
From Saturday's reading, I surmised that the major sticking point was board candidate Jennifer Martucci's use of information about C. J. Huff's evaluation during the March candidate forum.
The complete article offers a more revealing picture, that of a newspaper that is trying to put a stop to "blogs and social media" finding out what is going on in the school district. The Globe is in a bad position because its reporters long since stopped cultivating sources and every day, more and more people are refusing to answer the Globe's questions.
One reason for that, as far as the school district has been concerned, has been the newspaper's willingness to serve as a public relations funnel for C. J. Huff, in much the same way as many city officials have stopped talking to the Globe after it sacrificed its credibility on former City Manager Mark Rohr's altar.
You have to wonder about the credibility of the Globe's investigative report when C. J. Huff said the breaches of confidentiality have been going on for years, yet he refused to name any such instance, citing some newly discovered integrity about revealing information about personnel.
Also, the person that Huff uses to bolster his argument is former blogger and frequent Joplin Globe guest columnist Anson Burlingame, who has been an apologist and conduit for Huff for years.
The article takes a gratuitous swipe at Fort. "Fort did not return two messages left by the Globe seeking comment last week, even after saying on Thursday night that the Globe could call her on Friday. She has not returned nearly a dozen messages left by the Globe seeking comment on multiple issues, since the beginning of June."
Whether this comes from the reporter or some prodding from Editor Carol Stark, I do not know, but it added nothing to the story, except for making it sound like exactly what it is- the Globe whining because someone will not talk to them.
This is the first time I can ever remember a newspaper devoting so much space to an effort to keep the public from receiving information. Normally, the Globe achieves that result simply by ignoring the news.
As for the leaks from the school board closed sessions, there was a specific reason why I opened this post with Lou Nell Clark's advice.
For good reason, I do not reveal my sources. One reason is because many of these people would lose their jobs or suffer reprisals. Just as important, the minute I start revealing who my confidential sources are, I lose the trust of anyone who has talked to me or would consider talking to me in the future and this blog would be out of business.
I also do not eliminate people who are suspected as being my sources because that process of elimination could eventually reveal who has been talking to me. I made an exception to that rule when writing about former East Middle School teacher Kim Frencken because she was wrongfully accused of being a Turner Report source and was eventually put in a position by C. J. Huff's vindictiveness where she had to resign from a job she had held for 20 years.
So you are not going to learn from me who my sources are, but I was amused to read the complaints from Huff, Landis, Steele, McGrew, and Banwart- since more than half of the information I have posted about closed sessions can be traced to people in that group.
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