Taking the Lead

I finally obtained a copy of last week’s Lakeville Journal and nearly spilled my coffee looking at the front page.

First of all, let me say that I worked for the company for almost 10 years and still contribute as an op-ed columnist. I have tremendous respect for executive editor Cynthia Hochswender and publisher Janet Manko.

Now perhaps they could answer a question for me. Why on earth did they publish a lead story — top right and above-the-fold — about the new bio-mass heating system at Hotchkiss School that was literally written by the Hotchkiss communications office?

No, we’re not talking about a story based on a press release from Hotchkiss but the actual reprinting of the press release — apparently word-for-word — featuring extended quotes from Hotchkiss officials about how wonderful the new facility is. Mercifully, the piece is labelled as “guest commentary.”

Still, it would be one thing to publish a scaled-down version of that release somewhere inside — perhaps on the Salisbury page. But to take up the most valuable real estate in the paper with what amounts to a propaganda piece written by PR people simply defies explanation.

And I have nothing against Hotchkiss either. I count several faculty and staff members as friends, including communications director Roberta Jencks, whose byline is on the piece. And the new heating system does make for an interesting story.

Now, for those who think no one cares about this, then why not go a little further and let the first selectman write an article on what happened at the BOS meeting, or the board of education president write a front-page piece about budget deliberations?

I understand that all newspapers are suffering from declining revenues and have had to cut staff accordingly. But if you think the bio-mass boiler is important enough to merit placement as the lead story for the week, then isn’t it worth assigning a reporter to write the story? Just asking …

P.S. Feeding into my previous posts about administrative bloat in colleges, take a look at the list of administrators at Hotchkiss. With only a pair of exceptions, it looks reasonable. But is it really necessary to have two assistant heads of school (presumably making in the six-figures), one for environmental initiatives and the other for global initiatives? Not department heads, mind you, but assistant heads of school. Oh well, it’s not my money …

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6 Responses to Taking the Lead

  1. Michael J Flint says:

    When I issued my press release (2 pages, July 2009)announcing my independent candidacy for First Selectman, a story was not generated for a month. Further, few (if any) quotes were taken from the document.Interview time was minimal. The questions were more pointed at asking about what my opponent was doing (taking no focus on the issues I had brought forth), and I was never interviewed by the 'editorial board' before they made their endorsement.On the other hand, I have seen numerous stories that are more 'endorsement' of a particular government sector project than an objective report about the project, facts around it, and the cost issues that often are involved.Sometimes I wonder if those aren't just 'system' press releases.Maybe we could make this easy by just printing press releases from those who the editorial staff think are worthy.Obviously, all of us don't have that elevated ranking.

  2. Doug Richardson says:

    What is even more aggravating and, well, hideous is the fact that a Hotchkiss kid fell out of a second story window two weeks earlier and I did not see ONE WORD about it in the paper. I'm not the sort who see black helicopters hovering over Indian Mountain, but it's going to take quite a bit of convincing to get me to believe that the Journal did not want to piss H'kiss off by covering that story.

  3. Terry Cowgill says:

    Doug,To be fair to the LJ, I believe there was a brief Troop B blotter item on the window accident last week and a nice letter to the editor from the Hotchkiss headmaster thanking the first responders.But you are certainly correct that there was no news story on the accident. In my view, there should have been.

  4. Terry Cowgill says:

    Here is a response I got from executive editor Cynthia Hochswender on my Facebook page. My response follows:Um. since you haven't called to ask yet, here's the answer. That wasn't a press release, it was an article we asked Roberta Jenckes to work with us on since so many people have asked us in the past month about the plans for the new facility. It was written specially for us and was definitely not a press release. Thanks for asking first.Also, as you should remember from your days working here, when we label something Guest Commentary, it does indicate that it's an article written for us.

  5. Terry Cowgill says:

    Cindy, I didn't call because I wanted to give you the chance to respond here in your own words. Thanks for the clarification.But what you're talking about sounds like a distinction without a difference. I understand that it was a subject of… general interest to your readers.But this is an article written by a public relations professional about a subject that concerns her employer. Even if the article was written especially for The Lakeville Journal, how is that of any consequence?The fact remains that the lead story of the week was written by a spokesman for an organization and the content was about the organization. We just disagree.I respect you and am sorry you are bothered by this, but I think something needed to be said.

  6. Terry Cowgill says:

    And a response from publisher Janet Manko (also on Facebook):It was labeled as Guest Commentary, as you noted in your blog posting, which means it was the opinion of the writer. We'll keep an eye on the story as it develops, and report on it. Glad to have your opinion on it. Denis, The Lakeville Journal has not had cutbacks in its editorial department and we do still report the news of our towns to the best of our abilities. We never were overstaffed, however. We're a community weekly, not a daily.

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