Silence Dogood, schools and The Leader

In recent weeks a scuttlebutt of sorts has run its course through town . . . be it that as it was, the straw which broke the proverbial camel’s hump, was an e-column your humble scribe penned.
(Note to readers, you’ll notice other columns to click onto, two are columns I wrote, Can’t Ride the Pine is from before the election; Oxford School Admin, after. I have also included a letter published this week by Oxford Supt. Skilling. This would be a good exercise in critical thinking for any classroom. — don)
While not my best piece of prose, it prompted some folks to rally around the battle cry which sounds something like this, ‘Oxford Leader you are mean-spirited! You routinely dehumanize public officials whom you disagree. You report inaccuracies. You are evil and print only rumor and innuendo. Cancel my subscription!?
Let me state it in fewer words: ‘Oxford Leader, you suck.?
Sometimes we do make mistakes, and once we learn of them we take care of it in print.
Opinions are great and I believe everybody is entitled to them; but, I disagree — and many, many average Joes and Joettes, agree with my disagreement.
Much of the fallout is an aftershock from the now-failed school bond issue. And, I also think it comes from a general lack of understanding of newspapers, their functions, makeup and responsibilities. That is not a knock on average citizenry — civics classes are rare and folks in the news biz mistakenly assume all know how a newspaper works.
Broad-brush painting is a problem, too. To label all supporters of the bond as small-minded or Kool-aid drinkers is hogwash. Were that the case, I would be a closed-minded individual with a red (blue, green or purple) stain on my upper lip — cuz I personally opined I would vote for the now-failed bond. For the record, my lip is clean and pink.
Wrong, too it is to liken the Leader to some supermarket tabloid. The former reports fair and accurately the news which affects the average citizen in these parts. The latter reports rumor and innuendo as fact. Believe me when I say, there is plenty of rumor and innuendo the Leader could print, we get tons of it — via phone calls, letters to the editor and secret meetings in dark places. We hear a lot of stuff that would make your Sunday school teacher blush — that we do not publish.
Shift gears.
A newspaper is made up of several components, each separate but all important. I am not condescending here, just stating plainly — a newspaper has paid advertisements (we are a business that needs to turn a profit), news stories/articles (reporting the facts) and ‘Op-Ed? pages. Op-Ed pages are made of opinions (the op) and the editorials (the ed).
Editorials, while written by people, is the newspaper’s voice.
A column, is an opinion of an individual, usually a newspaper employee. It is that person’s opinion and that person’s alone.
Another component of the ‘Op-Ed? pages is the very powerful, letter to the editor.
The Oxford Leader does not print anonymous letters . . . of letters we publish we know the writer’s name and phone. We may withhold a letter writer’s name if requested, and if they show good cause. Many people are afraid to pen a letter about local government for fear of reprisal — they fear a raise in taxes. In the case of schooling they fear their kids may be the target of retaliation, or, if they work for a district, they may be fired for speaking out. I like to think of these letter writers as following in the tradition of Ben Franklin. Bespeckled Ben penned letters/opinions as a Mrs. Silence Dogood prior to Americans? fight for independence from the Brits.
For the record, we do try to convince letter writers to use their names as this lends credence to their arguments.
I’ve been told that people, too, are afraid of the Oxford Leader. Some are fearful if they stand on opposite sideas of any issue, the Leader (in words) will bring hellfire down and smote them in print.
Shfit gears again.
So, as I read it: some are afraid to comment against government and schools; and some folks are afraid to comment against the newspaper. Which simply means, everybody is afraid!
It is my contention all this fear is based on a failure to communicate. When folks are fearful, they are hypersensitive, they look for the bad in all, they rally around a scapegoat and they circle the wagons. Which means, they stick with what they know and are comfortable with.
As I believe, leadership in the school district is doing what it believes is in the best interest of the community, so do I believe writers and ownership of this newspaper want what is best in the community’s interest.
Failure to communicate . . . folks, this is America, we have to agree to disagree. It’s a groovy tradition of this country, but it is also one of the hardest responsibilities to uphold. Differing opinion need not be snuffed out, nor ridiculed. Ideas need to see the light of day. But if you are ridiculed, stand up. Don’t take your ball and go home.
This newspaper should not dehumanize humans, but neither should it shy away from calling a spade a spade or a hoe a hoe. It is our job to calls ’em like we seez ’em. We are not a government mouthpiece nor a ‘good-news? paper. It is our duty to report the beauty of life in our community, as well the warts that occasionally grow, fester and cause pain. We do not make the laws and rules, we simply keep watch to make sure thems who do, do.
Providing a public education to our children is one of the great traditions of this country and I admire the many sacrifices made in this regard.
This newspaper reports the news accurately, but it can do better. We all can do better. And, as your humble scribe, I vow to do better.