Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Student journalists did what Pittsburg Morning Sun should have done

With Pittsburg High School reporters receiving well-deserved plaudits from the national media, it is easy to overlook a basic fact.

What the staff at Booster Redux accomplished should never have been necessary.

While most of the blame, quite rightly, falls directly on the shoulders of Superintendent Destry Brown and the Board of Education for hiring a con artist without examining her credentials, the door opened wide for the student journalists when the professionals decided to ignore the warning signs

We have grown used to this in Joplin.

The Joplin Globe brushed off a tip from a local resident who was aware that the Salvation Army had only spent a small portion of the money it received from contributions following the tornado. That opened the door for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to break the story.

After all, important people in the know told the Globe there was no story there and that it would be bad for the community.

The Globe also did not follow up on a tip that Home Depot's building, which was destroyed in the tornado, was only built to withstand 80 mile per hour winds. The Kansas City Star did not ignore the tip and did some excellent reporting.

It was most likely another case of it not being worth the trouble or the bad image it could give the community, at least from the vantage point of the unelected city leaders who seem to dictate Globe editorial policy.

And, of course, you have Wallace Bajjali. Even before the city signed a contract with the so-called master developer, the Turner Report revealed the SEC investigated Wallace Bajjali for fraud and fined it for misleading investors. Later, the Turner Report detailed at least eight bankruptcies in which David Wallace had been involved, other fraud allegations and Wallace Bajjali's taking credit for jobs that were done by other people.

Yet, the only thing the Joplin Globe reported on Wallace Bajjali's problems was City Manager Mark Rohr's claim that there was nothing to them. These kinds of things happen to people who are involved in development projects all of the time.

The worst trap a newspaper can fall into is the idea that people who are in top level positions will never steer them wrong.

A touch of skepticism is vital for a newspaper. If you don't have it you might as well put up a sign that says "Integrity for Sale."

The Pittsburg Morning Sun received early warning that something was wrong with newly-hired Pittsburg High School Principal Amy Robertson's credentials. An anonymous letter suggested that Robertson was not what she seemed and suggested that the newspaper look into her background.

The Morning Sun checked with Superintendent Destry Brown and he assured them there was nothing wrong with Robertson.

Who can blame the newspaper for trusting him. Have you ever heard of a man named Destry lying?

When the Morning Sun placed its trust in Destry Brown, it violated the trust of its readers.

The hard-working high school journalists did what you would expect a professional newsroom to do- they checked out the new principal's background and raised questions on nearly every single stage of Robertson's career.

All it would have taken for the Morning Sun to have landed the same explosive scoop was one phone call. If it had checked any one item on Robertson's resume, the newspaper would have kept itself from becoming a laughing stock- the professionals who couldn't see the story that high school students spotted from the outset.

The Morning Sun did make one phone call- to Destry Brown.

Since Booster Redux landed the scoop that has made it the toast of the nation's journalists with coverage from the Washington Post, BBC, CBS, and NPR, among others, the Morning Sun has taken a patronizing attitude toward the younger journalists.

It has made grudging acknowledgements of their work toward the end of its stories, while tacitly going along with Brown's contention that the truth would have come out even without Booster Redux.

The newspaper has filed a couple of day late, dollar short stories examining the credentials of the principal who has already resigned, saying it is confirming the information from the student newspaper.

Sorry, the story was already confirmed; the Morning Sun is simply scrambling to make itself seem relevant.

The Morning Sun is trying to sell the idea that the students have done their little thing and got everyone all worked up, so now it is time for the adults to take over.

The most egregious example of the Gatehouse Media newspaper's alternative facts came in an editorial posted today on its website.

The second paragraph of the editorial is beyond belief.

We, and the PHS Newspaper “The Booster Redux,” both had serious questions about Robertson’s credentials upon which we attempted to follow up — without much success.

Speak for yourself, anonymous author of unsigned editorial. You may have followed up without much success, but the student journalists not only landed the story, but essentially forced the principal's resignation.

Later in the editorial, a couple of paragraphs were devoted to praising the students' work, but not until after readers were subjected to the Morning Sun's excuses for why it had not broken the story.

The editorial that should have been written would have congratulated the students and acknowledged that the Morning Sun did not serve the public when it ignored the warning signs that surrounded Amy Robertson.

Then it would have promised to do better and thanked the students for showing the way.


Anonymous said...

The Globe also did not follow up on a tip that Home Depot's building, which was destroyed in the tornado, was only built to withstand 80 mile per hour winds. The Kansas City Star did not ignore the tip and did some excellent reporting.

Not true, reread the article, it had some "experts" kvetching about the construction style, but it was rated for 90 mph winds like everything else built outside of hurricane zones. Unless it had been built like a nuclear war blast shelter, it wouldn't have survived the direct hit it took with 200 mph or greater winds and per the article, 3 times the force it was designed to survive.

Laurie Fehrenbach said...

I live in Pittsburg and look for a article every day in the Joplin Globe.
Laurie Fehrenbach

Laurie Fehrenbach said...

I live in Pittsburg and been waiting (and waiting) for the an article in the Joplin Globe

Anonymous said...

No different - in the reporting approach -- than that being taken by the Neosho Daily News regarding the tornado in Goodman. The Goodman school is a complete loss, yet they have one picture, and not a single story about the issue. They published, verbatim, the district press release about where students would now be going to school, but not even noting the reason for the relocation! Not that there's anything here to hide, but there IS a huge story to cover. I think it's just lack of resources (people) available. It's sad to see.

Anonymous said...

What the Morning Sun is doing after the fact is called CYA, but it isn't working.The paper is performing a service, though. It's showing the young high school journalists what a lack of integrity in journalism looks like.

Anonymous said...

The Joplin Globe finally published a story this morning, after being scooped by all the national media. If the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR all heard about it, why couldn't the Globe?