“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” — Strother Martin in “Cool Hand Luke,” 1966
ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.
It was regrettable, but inevitable, what happened earlier this week. Townbroadcast published a story Thursday night erroneously indicating Hopkins and Martin school districts would not follow an Allegan County Health Department order for all students in grades K-6 to wear masks in the classroom because of the Covid pandemic’s newfangled Delta strain.
I decided to publish what turned out to be a false report Thursday evening because of five factors:
- The WOOD-TV Channel 8 web site reported regional and state health departments had revised orders to permit local districts to decide for themselves on masking.
- The same news source reported that Hopkins and Martin were recommending, but not mandating students to mask up.
- Last spring the County Health Department issued a request for all schools to go to hybrid instruction (including on line). Wayland did, but Hopkins decided to continue with its four days a week instruction plan and Martin decided to stay the course with five days a week of in-person classes.
- A number of self-described Constitutional scholars have maintained health department officials do not have the power to tell schools what they must do in their classrooms.
- There was no indication otherwise on the Hopkins and Martin school district web sites.
This development was more than a possibility in the wake of the coverage area for the old Wayland Globe and Penasee Globe since it lost its community newspaper in January 2019.
To be sure, there have been a number of volunteer-driven local news Facebook chatter sites that since have filled some of the loss of information, but such sites do not customarily report on what happened at a township board, village council, city council or school board meeting. That was the purview of the community newspaper.
After I retired from more than 40 years in community journalism in 2012, I realized I didn’t want to sit in front of a TV and wait to die. So, with the help of the New Jersey-based Townbroadcast entity, I started the local paper all on line idea with an eye toward covering much of what the Globe did in bygone days, before it began its slow death as a free weekly “throwaway.”
When Advance newspapers shut down the weeklies almost three years ago, I noted with some consternation that no one but I appeared at municipal meetings. So if I didn’t do it, nobody would, and the only local news people in these parts would get would be the occasional ax murder or sensational or unusual story.
It wasn’t really a great sacrifice for me.
One of the biggest reasons for the demise of community weeklies and small dailies was purely economic. The biggest costs were printing and distribution. Because mine is all via the Internet, I absorb neither cost.
But aside from my outstanding group of columnists and a few tipsters, Townbroadcast is a one-man show that relies very heavily on the Internet and Facebook. The latter, as many know, is sporting, unpredictable and too often plagued by misinformation. So my job is to separate the wheat from the chaff, using my experience, to determine whether information is worthy of publication or not.
I have tried to avoid celebrity journalism, promote community-based stories and sidestep the awful trend of focusing so much on the individual. Sometimes I have failed.
My greatest need is cooperation from those involved with making the news. Some have been good at letting me know about developments and coming events. Others… not so much, especially if the news is not perky and positive.
There still exist people who believe I should be a community cheerleader. I am not.
My credo: “I report on what I see and hear. Sometimes I comment on it. Sometimes there is trouble.”