Thursday, May 21, 2009

No, we're not anti-teacher or pro-Scricca

We're working hard at the News-Review to come to terms with new technologies and figure out how to best use them in news gathering and reporting. We've enhanced the Web site in some ways already, but later this year we'll be launching a completely new site ¬­-- now in development -- that will be much more powerful, more interactive, and easier and more fun to use.

Among the enhancements we've made to our existing site is the ability of site users to comment on stories. This is supposed to help get a dialogue going in the community and (I think) improve communication between readers/users and the newspaper staff.

"Experts" tell us we (at the paper) should respond to people's comments online. We haven't done that yet. Lack of time is probably one reason why not. But as reporters and editors, we don't much like the idea of getting into debates with people about the issues we cover. Reporters of course have opinions about the subjects of the stories they write. But generally, they're supposed to keep those opinions to themselves. That's tough in the community newspaper business, where newspaper editors often double as reporters. We don't have editorial departments per se, so editors can't avoid writing editorials and opinion columns. It can get tricky. We have to be very careful about not letting our opinions seep into our news reports. Most of the time, I think, we do OK.

In spite of our sensitivity to such matters and redoubling our efforts to make sure we play news items down the middle -- especially if it's something we've opined about on the commentary pages -- people are cynical. Indeed, their level of cynicism sometimes amazes me. When people are passionate about a point of view, they tend to forget that reasonable people can, in fact, disagree.

Our editorials the past two weeks -- and the comments made about them on our Web site -- illustrate this point. (Though I should point out that in the case of education coverage, the reporter, Tim Gannon, never writes editorials, and the editors never do any reporting.) We published editorials on the proposed school budget and school board candidates. In them, we disagreed with some of the opinions expressed by the teachers' union.

"This paper seems to have fallen under Scricca's spell," wrote one anonymous poster on our site.

"Is Dr. Scricca writing these editorials herself? With the half truths that have been written in these last two editorials, it seems so. She definitely has someone's ear at the News-Review," wrote another, also anonymously.

Nobody, anywhere, has anyone at the News-Review under any spell. And certainly no one but us is writing our editorials. No one but our staff ever even sees them before publication.

Can't reasonable people disagree? And can't disagreement be expressed and debate undertaken without people smearing those who express opposing points of view?

I'm afraid the mode of communication on the Internet, with the proliferation of anonymous messages like this on Web sites, has debased public discourse -- even more than the 24-hour cable "news" networks had already done with their endless, mind-numbing offerings of people shouting at one another about this or that. That, to my mind, is a very unfortunate result of this new communication technology. When people don't have to take responsibility for what they say by putting their name to it, people will say all kinds of things. That's why we don't publish anonymous letters in our newspaper. And, although our editorials are not "signed," they are written by editor Michael White or me, or, more often, by both of us in collaboration.

For the record, I think the superintendent seems earnest, hardworking and smart. She seems to be doing a pretty good job in a tough situation. That doesn't make me anti-teacher or even insensitive to their plight. My children have had some truly wonderful, amazing and dedicated teachers in the Riverhead school district. And some of them have used their classroom as a soapbox for espousing opinions about their contracts, the administration and the school board. One of them recently complained in class that my daughter's mother's newspaper was "anti-teacher." That kind of thing is just plain inappropriate. Nobody should be pulling our kids into the union-administration tug of war -- even if the kid happens to be the daughter of the newspaper publisher.

Call me idealistic, but I'd like to see the administration, teachers and parents all work together toward the common goal of giving our children the best education we possibly can, within our district's financial means. There's been way too much "politics" for way too long in the Riverhead school district -- to the point of dysfunction. And in that kind of situation, the best interests of the kids can get lost in the shuffle.


Anonymous said...

Not only did you promote anti teacher and pro Scricca in all probability D. Scricca wrote it and you published it. She’s not called dastardly Diane for no reason. Now who’s indebted to whom? DiVito and Scricca are cut of the same cloth and as a taxpayer in this town it saddens me to know they hold something as sacred as a child's future in their hands. It’s also no secret in this district that you and she are “BFF’s” (best friends forever) as the kids say. Also something else one should consider: Angela Devito was also backed by RCFA three years ago! What you did was inappropriate and unethical at best. You should have kept your nose out of it!

Denise Civiletti said...

Oh, PLEASE, stop with this crap. Grow up. And have the courage to identify yourself. The wild accusations you're making are nothing short of libel. No one writes our editorials but US. You don't agree with us, fine. That's your right. But don't slime our reputation by claims that the people we cover are writing our editorials. And on top of it you're spreading lies about an imagined friendship. I remember a few years ago being accused by someone of having an affair with Paul Doyle! At least that person had the courage and the character to say that to me directly and not hide being the anonymity of an Internet post.

Anonymous said...

I need not "slime" your reputation- you did that all by yourself!

Anonymous said...

as a riverhead taxpayer i appreciate all the insight i can get into my district. i believe that the teacher's union is a bit too powerful and arrogant. i am happy that dr scricca has the "balls" to step up and let them know the free ride is over. i am a teacher and i support teachers, but the day the teachers wore their Unity shirts to 4th grade graduation and protested outside the concerts was when they,as a group,lost my respect . there are so many FANTASTIC riverhead teachers, but the union sours their reputation.

***i am not leaving my name because i truly believe it will affect the treatment of my children :(***

Brad Berthold said...

Unfortunately, one abysmal aspect of the way newspapers are evolving is the "debasement," as you put it, of public discourse in the comments section. Some newspaper people call this section "the sewer."

Nevertheless, even if some use it to debase, in the main these columns do in fact increase public discourse, by airing opinion in the community that might otherwise be stifled.

Rules banning anonymity are too hard and time consuming to enforce.

While advisedly not commenting on issues, reporters and editors certainly should be able to respond to false accusations and other outrages, as you did here.

Believe me, other papers around the country have much worse comments than so far seen here.

Wait'll the religious nuts and ultraconservatives get started.

Then the fun will really begin.

Woo hoo!

Anonymous said...


You asked in last week's blog post response, "What could have been done differently?" Where to begin?

1.) Many regional media ran the reports regarding the Finch arrest beginning early in the day following its occurrence. The News Review online broke the story early in the Friday school day, less than an hour after Newsday. Not once on that or subsequent days did I see a school official, on record in the public media, to say what they knew, when they knew it, and what actions were being taken on behalf of the population to whom we pay them to be entrusted. Granted I can’t pay attention 24/7. So maybe it occurred, and I just missed it? They would not have had to be on camera. It could have been the obligatory, “In a statement released by the RCSD…”

2.) RCSD has a wonderful public website, and automated calling system, that the school runs for the purpose of informing us about district goings on. Good news appears on the website daily or as soon as the webmaster gets the information to post. As a taxpayer with students in the district, who also was a product of Riverhead schools, I am all for “at-ta” boys, and love to read about the accomplishments of students and staff.
They use the systems to inform us about critical issues in the district as well, including MRSA, Swine Flu, what’s being done about MTA taxes, the sex offender trailer, that certain criminals are not employees of the district [remember the gymnastics teacher at a private school in Riverhead charged with child molestation, and sensationalized in other media as a “Riverhead teacher”?].
On Finch Friday, RCSD even used the call system to inform our household about Arts in Action occurring that evening. On occasion, with children in two district buildings, I have received four automated district calls in one evening.
The school website even has a rumor blaster button. Why did they let things play out in the media all weekend before issuing an official statement on said incident? Did you get a hard copy of the official statement mailed home? I did. With such worrisome accusations, the letter was signed by Ms. Carney, not Ms. Scricca. However, when the letter later posted to the school’s website the following week, it was the same text with the signature morphed to Ms. Scricca. Hmmm….
So obviously they can go on record about staff matters provided it clears the legal and PR dept.

3.) Next concern is how poorly this situation was handled by certain other district teaching staff. I know of one teacher, in the district, who when the incident was brought up as a classroom topic, the week after the story broke, said “We’re not allowed to discuss the matter with you guys [students].” Wouldn’t it have been more helpful if the company line had been, “If you have questions or want to talk about this, this is who to go see…”?

4.) A teaching opportunity missed. You betcha! Our district teaches abstinence, just say no to drugs, SADD, etc. Yet a principal has been snickered about all year by the students. Has the case been heard, dismissed, other? No, it just keep getting postponed with a cloud of suspicion and disrespect. Maybe the district didn’t want to risk an adverse ruling during the school year after so totally fumbling the matter by keeping him in a position of authority.

5.) One last item since I’m on a rant. Did you receive a copy of the district’s warm weather dress code mailed home? Ask your kids how arbitrarily this is being enforced. Spaghetti strap dress get cited, but “bootie” shorts get a “pass”. Hmmm…again. Seems to be more a question of who then what.

John Doe said...

As the anonymous poster who wrote both of the responses to the previous editorials, Ill tell you why I wrote anonymously. Fear. Fear of Scricca and the school board, and fear of the Union. Im not a teacher, but have a family member that is. Life can be made very difficult by those two groups if they know you're trying to stand up for what you believe is right.

But to call out an anonymous poster when there is no byline on your editorial is hypocrisy at its finest, of course it was very professional to come out now and admit that you wrote the article.

Everyone knows that journalism in todays society is pay to play. Look at the Washington Post and the Conservative bias that lives there. Its to be expected in this day and age. But dont get offended when people on the other side disagree with you and your choices and tell you in a spirited way.

Its tough to try to call you idealistic and believe that you want everyone to get along when you're stirring the pot by calling the teachers selfish, and promoting an agenda that only tells one side of the story.