Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Good News is No News

Small-town, family owned newspapers tend to tread lightly. I understand that. After all, publisher, editors, and reporters all belong to the same Rotary and Red Cross organizations as their sources. They see each other at Wal-Mart. Advertisers and sources operate restaurants where nice newsmen eat and garages where the family van is serviced. But that's not a reason to surpress news the community needs and wants to know. Today's example is last night's school board meeting.

DESOTO COUNTY -- School Superintendent Adrian Cline announced last night that because of shortfalls in state revenues, the state is asking the school district to make cuts in its budget amounting to $511,000.
0 The state did not ask the school district to cut the local budget. The state said it was sending less money down the pike. If the district had found money elsewhere, it could well have kept its budget intact. I'm not saying that's possible; my point is the state did not, in fact, ask the district to reduce its budget.

The good news is, the district will not be laying off any personnel in order to meet the cuts.
0 Not necessairly. It's bad news if deadwood, malingerers or the unqualified remain on the payroll another year. I'm not saying such goldbricks exist in our little town. I am saying second-sentence editorializing doesn't serve the reader.

The School Board met in a workshop two weeks ago to prepare possible cuts that would be the least hurtful in the event such a request came from the state
0 This sentence alerts us that the lead, "announced last night," is a canard. The board knew the situation a fortnight ago -- and before that, if news reports are to be believed.

"We're ready to proceed with cuts as prepared," Cline told the board.
0 This innocuous quote adds no substance. It clarifies nothing that has gone before and foreshadows nothing on the horizon. We expect the superintendent to be ready to proceed. Here's something readers would like to know: Half a million is what portion of the overall budget? Half? 10 percent? Something in between? It makes a difference.
At the workshop, the board drew up a list of cuts that would least impact students' education.
0 If I thought it would do any good, I'd scold the writer for using "impact" as verb. But I'm really looking forward to finding out about the "list of cuts" that will "least impact" education, so I'll move on.

"We had a group that looked at our entire budget to see what we could cut from the budget or not implement from the new budget to try to save that money in anticipation of the state cutting us, which obviously they did," said School Board Chairman Ronny Allen.
0 More procedure. And more evidence the super didn't suddenly announce the news last night. It would be interesting to know who was in the group that examined the budget. Teachers? Citizens? Friends of ... ? But, hey, this is a small town and everyone gets a nice soft quote. Any moment now, the reporter will report what's on the won't-be-bought list.

Allen said the cuts came to $552,000 at that time. Since then, the cuts requested had dropped.
0 Declined. Lessened. Been reduced. "Dropped" says the budget-reduction request had been rescinded, eliminated, revoked. The reader is whiplashed -- cuts or no cuts?

He said the board could "look at every single employee opening that comes open and see if we could have that task done by an existing employee or by not implementing certain programs that do not directly impact students' education.
0 "could," or "did"? The reader has been told that the work has been done and the decisions have been made. There's no conditional left to speculate about. Give us the list, for crying out loud.
"We're going to go ahead and implement the cuts now that we've heard from the Legislature." Allen said. "Right now, legislators are trying to see if the cuts they've requested are enough to meet their revenue crisis."
0 Sigh. Since the reporter isn't ready to report what's been taken out of the local budget, this might be a good place for a crisp sentence or two recapping the state-level "revenue crisis." But the reporter seems short on info that might help readers understand the relationship between the state level "revenue crisis" and local actions.
"But we are not handing out any pink slips like the surrounding counties are," Allen said. "I don't think the general public is aware of it, but the surrounding counties are dropping pink slips right and left."
0 If the public isn't aware of it, let's insert a snappy sentence or two that justifies the source's assertion that surrounding counties are dropping pink slips right and left. Which of seven surrounding counties?

On another notable matter, the School Board gave final unanimous approval for the purchase of V-Soft, a Web-based software application that has been developed with the purpose of aiding educational facilities in tracking their visitors, students and faculty.
0 Eeeeek! We've reached the end of the budget-cutting story only to be handed a rehash of yesterday's full-length story about "tracking" visitors with software. Worse, the reporter opines that is a "notable matter." Maybe, but what happened to the budget?
The value of the purchase is $20,000, to provide and deliver Web-based visitor security identification software access, hardware, accessories and technical support.
0 I'll skip the grammar, punctuation, style, and jargon issues. I sure wish I knew exactly what those darn budget cuts were.

The software was developed by Raptor Technologies Inc. of Houston, Texas. "V-soft not only provides an effective, efficient method for tracking, but also goes beyond conventional applications by utilizing available public databases to help control campus security," Raptor states.
0 Same quote as yesterday's story. A company can't talk. Never mind, I'm still wanting to read about the budget cuts. Which ones were implemented that would least affect students?

The program enables school districts to check for registered sex offenders as people enter campus.
0 The identical sentence appeared in yesterday's story. And the budget-cuts were ...?

According to V-soft, visitors to a campus would have their driver's licenses scanned when they check into a school.

0 Read it yesterday.

The software then compares the driver's license data against databases and prints out a disposable photo identification badge.

0 Read it yesterday.

The system checks on only sex offenses, not other criminal information such as traffic tickets or warrants.
0 Read it yesterday.

So, what about those budget cuts?

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