Friday, April 07, 2017
Pittsburg High School's reporters and the hypocrisy of the Joplin Globe
A partial list of media organizations that covered the story of the teen reporters includes the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, CBS, NPR, and the Kansas City Star.
One question Turner Report readers were asking was why the Joplin Globe had not written anything since Pittsburg is in the Globe readership area.
The Globe made up for its late entry into the PHS sweepstakes Thursday with a top of page one article by education reporter Emily Younker profiling the Booster Redux staff. It was a nice article and would have been enough, but the Globe couldn't let well enough alone.
On the same day, the Globe's opinion page featured an editorial extolling the work done by the student reporters under the headline "Protect student press."
We are proud of the Booster Redux and its PHS student staff. They dug beyond the surface to discover that Amy Robertson, who had been hired in early March, had received her master's and doctoral degrees from an unaccredited online school. Robertson resigned from the post on Tuesday night.
The unsigned editorial noted that a Kansas law protecting student freedom of the press rights made what the Booster Redux did possible and pointed out that it most likely could not happen in Missouri where there is no such law, though there is a bill in the legislature that would remedy that.
Newspapers have nearly always been supportive of the rights of student journalists and I am sure the PHS teen reporters appreciated the Globe's show of support- even though that support was steeped in hypocrisy.
It is easy for the Globe to support student journalist rights when they are being exercised across the state line.
When the Globe had its chance to support Joplin student journalists- the reporters of Missouri Southern State University's Chart, as they wrote about President Bruce Speck, it failed to do so.
The college students never shied away from reporting on Speck's efforts to dismantle the university's international mission and his bullying of employees. They even reported on his lack of sensitivity when he sang his self-penned ditty "The Pink Slip Blues" at a time when employees were all wondering how long they would have jobs.
Their reporting began with the botched search that brought Speck to Joplin, when he was the only person to be interviewed for the most important job on campus.
It was exactly the type of reporting that the Globe editorial on Pittsburg High School praised when it was done by the younger reporters.
There was no reason for the Globe to praise the work that was being done by the Chart.
It was Bruce Speck's retaliation against sponsor T. R. Hanrahan, Editor Brennan Stebbins, and the Chart staff that should have spurred the Globe to action.
In the fall of 2008, one of Speck's lieutenants removed all copies of the Chart from a job recruitment fair because it had a story that did not convey the message Speck wanted visitors to MSSU to have.
The Globe remained silent.
When the Chart offered blanket coverage of the faculty's no-confidence vote in Speck, and word began circulating that Hanrahan was being threatened, the area's newspaper of record continued to stand silently on the sidelines.
When Speck cut off the reporters' access to administrators and faculty members, the Chart continued to push forward, while the Globe continued to display its impotence.
Hanrahan was eventually fired in 2011 without the Globe ever writing an editorial supporting him and the independence and freedom of student reporters.
On the contrary, Globe Publisher Michael Beatty offered Speck advice on how to manipulate the media and offered the services of Editor Carol Stark to plan positive puff pieces extolling the virtues of Missouri Southern.
In an April 6, 2010 e-mail, Beatty told Speck he had removed bulldog reporter Greg Grisolano from the MSSU beat and assured him no one would be bothering him with Sunshine Law requests any more.
Then Beatty offered the following helpful advice to Speck:
As I thought more about the issue of a spokesperson, I will share with you what I experienced in Baltimore. I was used to the spokesperson to be more of a facilitator of the organization on how the message should be controlled. Examples would be call to Rod (Surber) about a story, he knows how you want the story played out so he picks the spokesperson. This gives him/you appropriate individual time to develop the message. The process is really about controlling the message when working with the press and keeping transparency to the taxpayers.
I think we can find a middle ground so that all will be satisfied with the process.
Telling a college president how to control the message was not only a slap in the face to the Chart reporters, but to all reporters.
That e-mail became public as a result of a Sunshine Law request by the Chart. It never appeared in that newspaper because by the time it was received, Hanrahan was almost out the door and Speck, without a word of opposition from the Joplin Globe, had effectively shut down the Chart as a watchdog for students and taxpayers.
The Chart posted the complete results of its Sunshine Law requests on a website, hoping that some reporter would help bring the results to the public.
I was happy to do it.
The Globe allowed Hanrahan to lose his job without defending the First Amendment rights of his students.
Some years have passed since the Globe, which has been a staunch defender of the First Amendment, except when it offends some of its friends in high places, allowed the Chart's independence to vanish without a word.
The same publisher, Michael Beatty, and the same editor, Carol Stark, are in place.
So let's welcome the newspaper's praise for the Pittsburg High School journalists and hope that the local newspaper will show the same stalwart support of student rights the next time it involves Joplin students.