Adventures in Spokemanning
Well jeez, we thought it was just us...
There's a routine that we at the Press have to follow if we dare report on HISD. We're not to call the school district press office. Heavens no, we're to e-mail. That's it. Why? As one helpful staffer told me (via e-mail, natch) when I was working on a story recently:
"...we have received very unfair coverage from the Houston Press in the past and so have a practice of answering the Press' questions via email."
Okay, so we don't get the VIP, on-the-phone treatment. Surely the Chron does, right? Right?
Nay, according to the Chron's School Zone education blog. Seems that when Chron reporter Jennifer Radcliffe was working on her story about opening day glitches, she followed up with everyone's favorite education spokesperson, HISD's Terry Abbott. According to the blog, Abbott told Radcliffe that this was "the best opening day he can remember." Where does that happy news come from? The blog notes that Abbott's information comes from Bellaire High School principal Timothy Salem.
Or does it? One reader cries foul:
"I just talked to Mr. Salem at Bellaire and he was amazed to find out he had said that. Please use responsible journalism and confirm quotes before attributing them to someone."
Bad reporting? No, says School Zone, it's bad "spokesmanning." School Zone contacted Abbott:
"That's what I was told yesterday. I didn't talk to Tim directly, I was only told by another administrator who had checked with the school."
But surely a spokesman would get his info right? Sorta. Says Abbott:
"Let me just do this if I may: I just spoke with Tim to clarify. He said: "I said we were having a great day. I would not say it was the greatest opening I've ever had. But we were having a great day." So we mistated "great day" as "greatest day."
Whatev. School Zone wanted to get to the bottom of this, so they requested permission to speak with Salem and the ghost administrator. Sorry, says Abbott:
"Let me just leave it with that, if you don't mind, so I don't bother Mr. Salem any more. I pulled him out of the hallway just then to talk to him. It's so busy at such a big school on the second day I'd rather not pull him out again."
Those hallways do get awful crowded. We feel ya, Terry. Though we can't help but notice you're awfully polite to the Chron guys. When's the last time you asked us if we mind?
The kicker: Abbott's communique with the Chron was done via e-mail. Whoa! School Zone says that "The school district's media policy requires reporters to go through Press Secretary Terry Abbott's office for all comments. That office routinely denies our requests to speak directly to employees, leaving us to either quote Abbott or no one at all."
So we're not the only ones! Perhaps when the Chron and the Press learn how to properly attribute quotes — you know, the way HISD does — we'll be golden. -- Steven Devadanam