Editorial: Daily Post Owes Teachers Explanation

Source: Jon Friedman

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Many teachers felt that their privacy had been violated because of a recent article in the Daily Post releasing teacher salaries in the Sequoia Union High School District. While this information is public record, lack of context and biased word choice made the article not only insensitive but also an example of poor journalism.

The article, first published on April 1st with another installment following on the 2nd, consists of a spreadsheet containing salaries given out by the District. Teachers, administrators, and other employees are included in the chart, their salaries ranking from highest to lowest.

“I felt kind of exposed. Generally one thinks of one’s earnings as something private,” expressed English teacher Liane Strub.

However, under the California Public Records Act, the Daily Post has the right to publish the salaries of government employees.

“Think of it as an employee-employer kind of relationship,” says author of the Daily Post article, Ryan Riddle in response.  “If I didn’t do anything right, my boss has the right to know because he pays me.”

Many feel that privacy could have been better respected if teachers were listed by field of education, bracket, and hours worked, rather than by name.

However, Riddle believes that “it puts a name to a face. Speaking for myself, it would be kind of uninteresting or foolish for a boss not to know who their employees are.” More like putting a dollar sign to a face, actually. And although teachers’ salaries are certainly an excellent pull factor for the Daily Post, simply including their names with no other analysis is in poor taste.

Teachers felt that at the very least, more background information could have been provided about these facts to explain the reasoning behind certain salaries. What analysis the Post did provide was headed with the inflammatory title “Little-Known Perks For Teachers.”

“The article seems manipulative because of its apparent bias in its wording and presentation. Overall, it could use more explanation,” says history teacher Jonathan Senigaglia.

“We gave their jobs and their salaries,” Riddle stated.  “Would it have been more detailed if we had included things such as part time versus full time? Perhaps. It would have been more information, and more information is good.” Yes, more information is good.

The major flaws behind the article are a lack of research and context.  Without such context, it appears that the story’s sole purpose is to incite antagonism against teachers.

“They’re going to try and justify cutting this salary or that expenditure,” math teacher Kristen Trent expressed. “I think there’s an agenda, for sure.”

The word “perk” specifically contributed to the article’s overall negative reception. The term, without context, is widely perceived as a benefit or privilege, and many feel it does not accurately express what teachers’ extra pay actually is.

Riddle says extra pay, defined by the district, is “anything that falls outside of an employee’s contract, including overtime, coaching, or clubs,” and that he was only implying that it is an extra pay that comes with the job. “Any kind of reimbursement can be considered a perk. It’s just the terminology.”

Extra pay entails extra work. “I did six weeks of summer school from 8-2 every day, and it was grueling. That’s not extra pay just because they think I’m nice or something,” says Strub.

Riddle also says that he does in fact explain in a previous article the reasoning behind one employee, Thomas Slater’s, extra pay. But just one explanation, separately published from the statistics, isn’t sufficient. In fact, it’s rather irresponsible. The Daily Post should have provided explanations for every teacher on the list if they truly cared about the public  “knowing their employees.”

Presentation aside, teachers were mainly angered by inconsistencies in the salaries themselves. As a classified employee, college counselor Alice Kleeman says her salary is actually in the low $50,000’s, yet the article stated that her “total pay” was $75,192.  She also says that while she does receive some extra pay, it all comes from the Foundation for the Future, not taxpayer money. In fact, Foundation director Cindy Folker says that this year over $900,000 was raised for M-A salaries.  So actually, some salaries on the Post’s list were not funded by taxpayer money at all.

“I’m not comfortable with people making judgments or forming opinions based on erroneous information, as in my case,” says Kleeman.

The Daily Post has published previous articles displaying salaries of other government employees, and highlighted the Sequoia District last year. However, this year, the list was structured differently.

“The numbers came directly from the district and they cover the calendar year, which may be different because school employees are used to the [Fall to Summer] school year when they get their pay,” says Riddle.

Therefore, first year teachers, like Senigaglia, had only half of their salaries accounted for, and teachers that worked part time for one school year and full time for another, such as history teacher Ellen Jacobson, also had their salaries skewed in the article.

However, Riddle never mentioned the calendar difference in the article and he says that “perhaps he should have,” and that he was just trying to present the salaries more clearly to the reader.

“We analyze information, we put it in a digestible, readable form so that someone can read it and make their own decision,” he said.

That digestible, readable form consisted of copying and pasting the district’s financial excel sheet onto a newspaper. Thanks for the transformation, Riddle. There was little analysis of the teachers’ salaries, and overall, the article’s coverage was confusing, misleading, and incomplete.

Riddle remarks, “the article was written to cause people to think, and that is what good journalism does. Let them come to their own conclusions.”

Good journalism doesn’t present confusing and sensitive information in such a distorted way.

The Post’s portrayal of teachers’ salaries alludes to excess. By referring to extra pay as a “perk,” rather than compensation for an individual’s additional effort, they make it seem as though teachers do not deserve that extra sum. Presenting taxpayer money as the sole source of these “perks” hints that the Post wishes to incite in the public some sort of notion that teachers are overpaid.

Science teacher Jeff Decurtins says, “Personally, I think this whole thing is a joke. What possible relevance to any educational improvement is knowledge of a specific teacher’s salary? But even more relevant, our salaries are a joke. I used to work in high tech across the street at SRI. In walking across the street to M-A, my salary got cut in half and my hours doubled.”

Next time the Daily Post feels called upon to perform a public service, they should be sure to conduct their research more carefully. As high school journalists, we were hoping for a more competent example to follow. At the very least, they ought to apologize to the teachers they’ve wantonly offended.

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18 Responses to “Editorial: Daily Post Owes Teachers Explanation”

  1. Ms. Snow on April 12th, 2011 6:39 pm

    I’d love to hear thoughts from general readership about the information/reason to publish. What do the citizens of Menlo Park think? I might also edit out some of the sass as it makes this sound like a verbal sparring or a personal attack instead of a sound investigation of the reasoning behind and reaction to the information.

  2. Mrs. Jacobson on April 12th, 2011 6:40 pm

    The Daily Post could learn a thing or two from you all in the M-A jounalism class. EXCELLENT reporting. Please, send this article into the Post! BRAVO. The editorial board did a great job of getting facts/examples and quotes where as the Daily Post just cut and pasted information. GREAT JOB!

  3. Liane Strub on April 12th, 2011 7:42 pm

    Perhaps the Daily Post would be interested in our “anti-perks,” such as the paucity of paper towels, toilet paper and soap in staff restrooms; the lunches we eat at our desks while counseling, tutoring and administering missed exams; the nights and weekends we spend creating curriculum and grading; the money we spend equipping our classrooms; the time spent cleaning and tidying our rooms at the end of the day.

    Meanwhile, kudos to the staff of the M-A Bear News for challenging the Daily Post’s reporter Ryan Riddle. The courage it took the four reporters (Lauren Diamond, Melissa Gaherty, Alison Myoraku and Madeline Drace) to question the motives and methodology of an adult professional is inestimable. Plus, they had to approach teachers they didn’t know for an interview during, yes, lunch.

    One question no one seems to be asking: why did the District administration release the information in the form they did? Yes, under the Freedom of Information Act, they had to release salaries, but they could have “bundled” the entire pay (without breaking out those “perks” we received for coaching and teaching summer school). And did they indicate what services teachers and administrators performed to merit the “extra pay”?

    Thanks, MA Bear News, for bringing the article in the Daily Post to our attention.

  4. M-A Student on April 12th, 2011 8:58 pm

    “Thanks for the transformation, Riddle”
    “Good journalism doesn’t present confusing and sensitive information in such a distorted way”

    I’d be compelled to take this article much more seriously if it wasn’t written with such perceptible sass and nastiness. Riddle’s choice to reveal teachers’ salaries so impersonally and with a blatant lack of respect is contemptible. However, the author’s juvenile verbal attacks on the journalist and his organization distract the reader from the article’s material of actual substance.
    Instead of reading as a piece of informed, properly handled journalistic investigation, your editorial comes across as an acerbic, invective, personal tirade against the author and the deficient journalism that you so caustically attempt to attach to him (i.e.: not the actual article in the Daily Post).
    Please eliminate the immature, sarcastic gibes that riddle this otherwise well-written and well-argued editorial. Otherwise, you are fighting poor journalism with a sophomoric diatribe — a sure way to lose readers.

    An avid reader of the MA Bear News 🙂

    M-A Student Reply:

    I understand the concept of an editorial. I merely meant to suggest to tone down the sass so as not to come across as immature and unprofessional. I certainly had no intention of angering the authors or other members of the MA Bear News. Nor did I mean to write a comment that would garner such outrage — it was just a (too?) harshly-worded critique/suggestion.
    Please understand that I never set out to write my comment as an attack on the authors, just as a comment on the extent to which they lampooned Riddle. I apologize (please see later comments..) if I came across as rude.

    Apologies and congratulations to Lauren, Melissa, Alison, and Madeline.
    Continue to keep up the good work!

  5. M-A Student on April 12th, 2011 9:03 pm

    P.S.: I didn’t mean to sound harsh. Riddle is ENTIRELY WRONG in his publishing of our teachers’ salaries. I just wanted to point out that your editorial is ridden with immature attacks on Riddle himself that detract significantly from the style, professional nature, and cool collectedness that I personally attach to excellent journalism.

    Student Reply:

    The attacks are not immature. The attacks are accurate. Riddle used journalism to misrepresent data, our noble members of MA Bear News are merely using journalism to exploit his only personal nastiness. The article is hardly “sassy”, it is more so “inspired”. This article merely reveals the nastiness of Riddle in his writing. The article is biased by opinion, not misinformative.

    By the way, using large words and textbook sentence structure does not make you sound smart or respectable, it makes you sound like a jerk.

    Melissa Gaherty Reply:

    Dear M-A Student,
    It is good to hear that you are a loyal reader.
    Our “sass” and “verbal attacks” were not targeted at Riddle as a person, but the way he went about the article. Yes, we pointed out some key flaws, but in an editorial we are encouraged to express our opinion. I do not think the comments were “immature” but a justified, opinionated response. We did not hold back. It was a risk we wanted to take. This article is supposed to be controversial so thank you for the suggestions and opinions– we love to hear them. However, we stand by our views.

  6. M-A Student on April 12th, 2011 9:36 pm

    And now I feel that I came across a bit too scathingly. Please don’t take offense — I support every argument made in your article. It would just read better and sound more professional without the sass (or at least with LESS sass). As Ms. Snow said, there’s so much that it verges on sounding “like a verbal sparring or a personal attack instead of a sound investigation of the reasoning behind and reaction to the information.” Your very personal gibes at Riddle may result in your labeling as poor journalists, which you certainly are not.
    It’s best to sound collected and professional in the face of an immature man like Riddle, isn’t it? 😉

    All in all, a well-written, well-argued, sound editorial. Congratulations! I commend the MA Bear News Editorial Board for representing MA very effectively. Removing a little bit of the sass would make your article professionally publishable! 🙂

    McB Reply:

    Would you mind clarifying which lines seem. to cross the line?

  7. M-A Student on April 12th, 2011 10:24 pm

    “Thanks for the transformation, Riddle.”
    To me, that’s the prime example. Sassy and rather unneeded. Of course, it’s an editorial, so it’s rooted in opinion, but that line immediately set me off. I just thought it wasn’t necessary. It sounded more like a personal attack on Riddle, as if the authors had written the article to lampoon him instead of the article he had written.

    Again, I did NOT mean to create such controversy/come across as rude. My deepest apologies! I actually feel embarrassed for commenting!

    Melissa Gaherty Reply:

    Don’t feel embarrassed. The comments are what make our articles more interesting. But yes, we will defend our arguments and we like to debate. The comments are used for discussions in class and for future improvements- they’re only helpful.
    So, to clarify, you thought by specifically referring to Riddle in the quote above and not the paper as a whole was crossing the line? Or the sarcasm in the comment?

  8. Jesus on April 12th, 2011 10:44 pm

    M-A student,
    Thank you. Having that cross to bear was really a hassle before you stepped up to help out.

  9. A math person on April 12th, 2011 10:49 pm

    Kate – this editorial “does not serve the same purpose”. The use of present progressive sounds stilted in context

  10. Lorry Orcutt on April 13th, 2011 8:16 am

    Great article! I really enjoyed reading it. I hope you sent it to the post so they can print it as a rebuttal to their article.

  11. Tania Kranzler on April 13th, 2011 9:51 am

    Excellent job: Lauren Diamond, Melissa Gaherty, Alison Myoraku, Madeline Drace and a big thank you to their teacher, Mr. McBlair for getting this much-needed response out there.

    Ms. Kranzler

  12. person uninvolved on June 10th, 2011 4:01 pm

    Ms. Orcutt, a rebuttal would be a correction on the behalf of the initial author or newspaper entity publishing a correction. Any sort of ‘correction’ is not needed in this case because this is a news article in and of itself proclaimed from a separate news entity.

  13. Ambrose Wagler on March 30th, 2012 1:58 pm

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing work.

Editorial: Daily Post Owes Teachers Explanation