Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Guest Post: Better and Balanced Coverage

Today’s post comes from Oakland Mills Village Board Chair Jonathan Edelson. He wrote it in response to recent coverage of Oakland Mills High School in the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times. This piece by Andrew Michaels was originally posted online on December 11th, then appeared in the December 14th print/digital editions. Interestingly, it first ran under this:

Howard County school leaders look to parents, training to combat violence

Then, in print:

County teachers training in conflict resolution

Mr. Edelson raises some excellent points here. Recent discussions in Howard County about possible high school redistricting have exposed some ugly generalizations if not downright racist attitudes about “those students”from “those neighborhoods”. It’s extremely concerning that this article appears to feed that line of thinking rather than do the research necessary to place recent incidents in context.


Open up today's Flier. There is an article titled, "County teachers training in conflict resolution." That sounds like a good program. The article itself, however, leaves me feeling that we're seeing more of the same reporting about a couple of schools. Despite several hundred arrests at Howard County schools over the last few years, only two schools are named in this article, Oakland Mills High and Wilde Lake High. 

I have to assume (because the article provides few facts about other schools) that things must be happening at other schools. Yes, two very recent events happened at OMHS and WLHS, but are these schools anomalies? Do we really know the gender of each student arrested, the level of school at which they were arrested, but not the school itself? If this is a county wide effort, why are only two schools named in the article? 

If the analysts who work for me in my professional life were evaluating a program and turned this in to me, I would send it back. I would ask them if they even attempted to pull data on other schools or contact them. I would ask them what makes 2 schools out of 76 unique. 

Wilde Lake's Principal should be commended for taking action to address an issue at his school. Instead, his letter to families is also used as easy headline fodder for reporters. I see similar laziness in reporting about Oakland Mills. The police released this information about the fight at OM just as they release information on dozens of other calls they receive each day. It didn't take much investigative journalism to highlight these two schools as exemplars of what may be a county-wide issue.

So once again, I'll ask, is it just me, or do we need to push our local media to work a bit harder in their reporting on our schools and communities?

I raised this in my remarks at this week's village board meeting, and the resounding response from my colleagues on the board was that we need to start pushing for better, balanced coverage now.


Mr. Edelson’s work appears here with his permission.

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