Thursday, November 8, 2007

No News is Good News II

The state released a scathing report Monday detailing shortcomings in an organization – the YMCA no less — that administers area foster-child programs for Florida’s troubled Department of Children and Families. The lives and well being of several hundred children in DeSoto and surrounding counties are affected by the people criticized in the report. Not one word, however, about the report, the nature of the problems, or the effect the troubles are having on DeSoto’s most vulnerable citizens — children in foster care — has appeared in the newspaper.

The DeSoto Sun maintains an office of four full-time reporters, most called “editors” of one sort or another. But on Tuesday, the day the foster care story should have run, DeSoto editors ran front-page items by Annie Curnow, a nice PR lady for the local hospital, who donated a press release about hernia screenings, and the main-sheet business editor’s puff piece on vintage B-17 airplanes. Karen Blanchette, a tireless volunteer, gave us a long, inside piece on her organization, and Sandy Copperman contributed a long review of his evening at the Asolo Theater in Sarasota. The local YMCA coach sent in 90 inches (count ‘em) about Pop Warner football, and coach Steve Vickers produced another 40 inches about middle-school softball. All this and not one inch about the children in foster care.

On Wednesday, one person on the payroll managed to assemble a thin story about a five-acre annexation to the city and copy out a sheriff's report about a prank phone call to the high school (giving two different versions of the time the school was evacuated).

Other than that, Wednesday's generous news hole was once again filled by an all-volunteer troupe headed by Sara Spas of the School District, who wrote four stories, Robyn Hanke of Southwest Florida Water Management District wrote a nice long piece about forming a committee, Barbara Oehlbeck, a local historian and fiction writer, filled 50 inches with two items, and the Florida Department of Agriculture contributed a 50-inch weekly farm review, recapping the effect last week’s tropical storm had on east coast and panhandle farmers, with one brief sentence about DeSoto rye grass, decidedly not our largest crop.

All this help from volunteers and our paid reporters and trained journalists couldn't lift the phone off the hook high enough to get a dial tone and call the local DCF advisory council on foster children.

A little deeper inside, a children’s group sent in photos from a coaching session and the women’s club fashion-show organizers reported their own activities with three large, contributed photos. Jessica Shaver, another nice lady with the school district, pitched in with yet another item. The community college sent out a press release about an exhibit in Avon Park (50 miles from here) that local editors ran in full with its supplied photos. Nothing about the foster children and the YMCA's problems carrying out its contract.

Today, Thursday, DeSoto’s local front leads with two stories from staff writers based in North Port, a town 40 miles from here, and a petty fraud from Port Charlotte, the next county west of us. Inside, two stories from Venice and regional pieces on a presidential veto and an “invitation” from the Environmental Protection Agency to form a Peace River committee dominate the inside. Turning the page, the datelines are once more from Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda (three times), and Englewood. Jessica Santillo, described as communications director for a local congressman’s office, gets a by-line and 15 inches for her press release about the nice politician’s good deeds. A ribbon-cutting photo is contributed by a local real estate agent. Nothing about our community's children in state foster care.

If our publisher is hard up for story ideas to assign to the journalists people he actually pays to cover the community, I know where he can get a nice long list. Starting with the phone number of the local foster-children's advisory council and a copy of the New York Times paper, the Charlotte Herald, which ran the story under a local byline on the front page.

More local news:

Sun publishers announced today they've bought Frostproof News, a weekly paper in Polk County, northeast of here. The announcement promises that the tiny newspaper will be able to share stories with the big guys in the publisher's "media group." I hope the folks in Frostproof are hankering for news from North Port.

No comments:

Post a Comment