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Sept. 12 - Editorial: To the New Owner of the SMN, We Are Not Supposed to be The Story

Category: Local Media & Agencies

Sept. 12, 2017 – Coastal Empire News, publisher of The Savannah Business Journal, was disappointed to learn today that a reporter for the Savannah Morning News choose to file a ‘Media Request’ with the Savannah-Chatham Public Schools regarding whether someone there had an opinion about a Facebook post by Board Chair Jolene Byrne.

Her Executive Editor, Susan Catron, will not comment on this specific request, but states that she gives her reporters the latitude to seek any open records information they need to do their job.  

But, it is an axiom of the media that ‘We are not supposed to be the story.’  

The continuing and seemingly endless efforts by the SMN’s reporter Jenel Few, apparently allowed by her editors, defies logic.  When any reporter ‘becomes the story,’ it can do harm to a news company’s relationship with the community.

All one has to do is look at Board Chair Jolene Byrne’s social media followers and their comments to see that she has a very high level of community support.

And, when there are SO many more critical stories to be pursued about both the challenges and successes of the SCCPSS system, to try to pour gas on a fire that isn’t there is unproductive.

Under SCCPSS’s new Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett, there is an opportunity to reboot the relationship between the Board, the Superintendent, and Byrne … versus the vitriolic approach employed by former Supt. Thomas Lockamy who was widely viewed as ‘in bed’ with the SMN and Few, speaking figuratively. 

Byrne was enthusiastically elected by a wide margin across the County but has fought an ongoing battle and endless attacks by Few and the paper’s editorial page, versus straight news coverage of Board actions.  

According to Byrne, posting on her Facebook page today, “Last Thursday, Jenel Few sent a media request to school board members and the superintendent as our community was planning for evacuation. She wanted to know if my posts here on Facebook regarding district planning for the hurricane were inappropriate. My reply has been delayed as I felt our community focus should be on safety during a time of statewide emergency, not on petty politics. Now that the storm has passed, I will provide this response:

At no time over the course of preparation for and response to hurricane Irma have I posted information about SCCPSS that was privileged, inappropriate, or inaccurate. In instances when the superintendent requested that sharing information be delayed until the district communication system had shared the message, I have readily complied.

1. The superintendent has not in any way indicated to me that she feels I have interfered with her ability to manage the day-to-day operations of the school district.

2. It is the responsibility of Board members to use online social media to communicate with the community.

To elaborate:

1. The superintendent is well aware of all of the public posts I have made to social media. She has even replied to some comments on my page. She knows that if at any time she is not comfortable with my posts, she can contact me and I will immediately remove them. We have an agreement that she will contact me without delay if she feels any action Board members take interfere with her ability to manage the day-to-day operations of the school district. In fact, the superintendent’s employment contract requires that she notify the Board President if she feels any member of the board is interfering with her ability to do her job.

Dr. Levett has not in any way indicated to me that she feels I have interfered with her ability to manage the day-to-day operations of the school district.

2. The responsibility of Board members to use online social media to communicate with the community and stakeholders has been board policy even before I was elected to serve on the Board.

The Board’s District Accountability Plan, which was adopted at the September 2017 Board meeting, reaffirms the responsibility of Board members to communicate important district information to the public. Specifically, under Strategic Goal 3, item number 3, Board members will “Use online social media to communicate with the community and stakeholders.”

Byrne concludes, “I hope that going forward the education writer and the publisher of the Savannah Morning News will focus on matters related to student achievement rather than such petty politics and personal attacks.”

We concur.

There is never an easy day in the media business, but there are easy decisions to make as owners when the effectiveness of any reporter on ANY beat no longer serves the reader and the community.  

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