Thursday, May 26, 2011

Setting the record straight

"Boyertown Area School District administrator pay freeze off the table for now"
That headline which appeared on our website Wednesday and in The Mercury on Thursday caused a flurry of protest, including an email from Boyertown schools superintendent Dion Betts to people in the community.
Protesters claimed the headline misrepresented the school actions. It did not.
The key words, that many seem to have missed, are the six letters FOR NOW.
This news article written by Mercury staff writer Phil Ellingsworth Jr. reports on the administrator pay freeze which has been discussed as part of the Boyertown Area School Board budget cuts.
The article stemmed from a Tuesday night meeting in which a printed agenda item to approve a pay freeze for district administrators was removed from the agenda to allow more discussion.
Neither the article nor the headline says the administrators are unwilling to accept a salary freeze.
Neither says the salary freeze proposal has been scrapped.
Neither says there won't be a salary freeze.
Both the news article and headline say the freeze wasn't approved Tuesday and was taken off the agenda -- off the table, so to speak -- for now so that more discussion can take place. The content or goals of that discussion was not revealed by school officials.
After this article was posted on The Mercury website, commenters added their opinions on administrators versus teachers regarding a salary freeze, since Boyertown teachers have offered and been approved to hold their salaries at current levels.
The comments followed a presumption that administrators are dragging their feet on this issue. The story did not say that.
The reaction continued to spin in an errant direction on Thursday, when Superintendent Dion Betts sent out an email to many people in the community, stating:
"You may have read an article in the Mercury about the administrative pay freeze. There is some misunderstanding.
The administration IS taking a pay freeze. There were more discussions with the board in this regard, and that’s it."
The email titled "Superintendent's update" included a link to our accurate but misunderstood article. Earlier, on Wednesday, Betts had complained that the headline on the article was misleading, and while admitting the reporting was accurate, he asked that it be changed.
Another email received Thursday from a member of Community United for Boyertown insisted the article was wrong, and suggested it be corrected to say the salary freeze was just tabled for discussion purposes, not taken out of the budget proposal.
Which is precisely what Ellingsworth's story stated.
In retrospect, we perhaps could have worded the headline differently to say the pay freeze was tabled Tuesday for the point of discussion. But to be truthful, "for now" seems to work just as well.
We could have used a word other than "tabled" but removing an item from the agenda defines the action of being "tabled," so that too seems silly.
We suggest that instead school officials could have been more specific in what they still needed to discuss. Or, they could have been more careful and refrained from putting an item on the agenda if they weren't ready to act on it.
Betts said, and we quoted, that the pay freeze would be voted on before the final budget adoption in June. That tells readers pretty clearly that it's going to happen and has not gone away.
We respect the right of Betts to underscore the importance of this issue, but the bottom line is that we reported this situation accurately.
And we will continue to do so, "for now" and for the future.


  1. I can understand the words "off the table" as being a point of contention. "Off the table" typically means "no longer an option", or "not going to happen". We can argue semantics all day, but the bottom line is that a large section of people misunderstood the intended title - "off the table" implicitly means that something is not being debated or discussed. Nevertheless, we are now greeted with a wonderful new blog post, explaining how the author could not possibly be wrong - it must be the dozens of readers who are incorrect. Yep. That must be it.

  2. I concede your point that the article was not inaccurate. However, if the article was so widely misinterpreted, have you succeeded as journalists? If your article exasperates a delicate situation, have you served your community?

    As a member of the Boyertown community, I *know* the stress and anxiety this article generated, rightly or wrongly. As you have been reporting on the recent budget issues in the Boyertown school district, you must be aware of the heightened emotions of the community. Having received "a flurry of protest" *to*the*article*, does that not suggest a shortcoming in the writing, rather than the actions of the Boyertown school district?

    I do thank you for acknowledging and responding to the reaction to this article. I do, however, request that you also publish your response in print, since you the article appeared in print as well.

    Larry Farmer