Thursday, July 13, 2006

How I Got Here...What Really Happened
So I write a local newspaper column for three years here in Windsor, Colorado. It's popularity grows and my kids get frustrated because we can't go anywhere in town without some reader stopping me to tell me I made her cry or he liked the way I said what everyone in town was thinking but didn't dare say out loud. That column, published in The Windsor Tribune, was called The Family Room.

But then my very excellent editor had a baby and had the audacity to decide to stay home and raise her daughter with her own two hands (imagine!). So I was left with a reporter promoted to editor who I think is a control freak and who wanted to approve the topics I wrote about ahead of time. I got a healthy chuckle out of that idea, said "I don't think so," and wrote my last column for that paper.

Then I walk across the street to Windsor's other local paper, The Beacon, and I ask the editor there if he'd like to publish my column. He enthusiastically says yes, he would. So I rename the column The Front Porch, and I write my first one, published on Saturday, July 1. The column never made it to the online edition of the paper because, well, who knows why. What it did do is make the school board mad because I think they were spineless in how they handled a situation and I said that. Well, I actually said they "seemed to have misplaced their spines," but the meaning remains the same. I also said I believed another party involved in the situation used the influence and power of wealth to get the school board to roll over and play dead, and so I imagine that party was also pretty mad.

My esteemed editor calls me 2 days after my column was published to tell me he's "taking a lot of heat" on my column. Although he proofread the column before sending it to press, he managed somehow not to notice that I did not name a source who shared with me information, but who I instead called "a reliable source." During that phone conversation, the editor informed me that the paper's policy is to name all sources. Well, thanks for telling me that ahead of time, and for doing such a good proof job, I'm thinking. There's a reason sources don't want to be named, and it's because they're sources!

At any rate, my editor explains to me that he feels he must write a disclaimer saying my opinion is not necessarily that of the paper (and in this case, our opinions were completely opposite). I had no problem with that at all. But in reality, that's not what he did. Instead of doing as he said he would, he apologized to readers if they found my column offensive, and said the paper has a policy of not using unnamed sources. He then says, and I quote, "Valentine might not have been aware of that policy." Hmmm...ya think? Since he never told me about it, did not proofread carefully enough to catch it before going to print, and only told me about it 2 days after my column is published? Maybe I didn't know about it? Ironically enough, the morning of the day he published that smashing, butt-covering editorial, he sent me an email that said, and again, I quote,
As for your first column, I think we’re clear about unnamed sources now. I apologize for not making that point clear before. I also should have spent more time looking at your column last week. I was swamped with the launch and didn’t give it the close read I should have. If I had, we could have resolved that matter quickly.

So imagine my surprise when I realize he pinned his failure on me and hung me out to dry. My pseudo-editor at the
Trib got on my case because I wrote a column praising a local auto repair shop (Windsor Auto) and actually named it. How the hell am I supposed to share the news of great companies if I can't name them? He got a letter from a reader (affiliated, I suppose, with one of the other local auto shops that suck) who was miffed that I didn't talk about every other shop in town. But my column wasn't about every other shop, I don't like the other shops, I've had crappy service at the other shops. And now, at the Beacon, I'm being blamed because I did not provide a name.

My editor sends me an email, telling me he doesn't want my opinion columns, which floors me because The Front Porch is an op-ed column. He wants the feel-good stuff, the funny stuff. Reading between the lines, what he seems to not want is trouble, so I'm wondering why he hired me in the first place, especially when I made it a point to remind him that sometimes, my column is controversial, and he was okay with that.

So I give up. I had high hopes for the
Beacon, but when your editor so obviously doesn't have your back and caves under pressure from the powers that be, then tells me I'm relegated to writing fluff, what's the point of trying? So I'm starting this blog. I'll miss having print editions of my columns, but I think the tradeoff is worth it. Here I can say what I have to say, you can say stuff back to me, and we don't have to worry about editors who worry about pissing people off.

I hope you'll visit
The Front Porch frequently. I'll try to write at least weekly; more often if my kids are driving me insane (see my profile for pertinent info) or I'm feeling frustrated by the seeming abundance of people who can't commit to anything in this town. I welcome your comments and feedback. If you like what you read here, please tell your friends and invite them to join us. If you don't like what you read here, please tell your friends, too. Usually if someone gets mad at something I say, it's because there's some truth to it.

Thanks for stoppin' by...I'll leave the light on.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Beck--Look at you, starting trouble again :) Once again, I applaud you for being uncomprimising! Its a damn shame the print press couldn't appreciate how lucky they were to be the vehicle for your voice. You rock!! love amie

Mary A. Shafer said...

Well, the whole situation stinks of invertebrate ass-kissing, but that's what blogs are for. So, throw off the chains of beholden simpering and welcome to the whole, wide web!

Rock on, Ms. Valentine. I wish you the time and energy to continue to rock the worlds of those who would muzzle you with their pathetic fear of the truth.

Anonymous said...

Could you please post a copy of the article that caused so much of a problem?

CHLuke said...

So sad... A friend just lost a teaching job in another burg due to a large donation to the school. And she was told not to make waves, because "that's not the Bay Way." The Columbia School of Journalism editor there likewise has no interest in making waves. Thomas Paine and Upton Sinclair would be proud...

Pat Riddle said...

Well, Ms Becky, I must say I think you guys need a new paper (or two!) in town. The ones you have are obviously more concerned with soothing the sad and sorry egos of those around them than with reporting, editorializing or initiating any kind of meaningful dialog about ANY subject. I'm very proud to know you, very pleased to think how proud you must have made others and very glad that we still have access to your musings on any and all subjects. Keep 'em coming, lady!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the ego on you! You get dumped by two different newspapers and you're coming off as the victim. Seems to me like you're the problem. If you're not a journalist, then what gives you the right to make assumptions and allegations regarding the school board? Did you attend meetings or speak with the board members? It appears you based your opinion on hearsay and went from there. That's gossip, not fact.

Rebecca Valentine said...

Sure, and when I go to the school board members, they're going to readily admit they rolled over because this guy donates lots of money to the school district, and because some of them actually are friends with him, live in his development, socialize with him, etc. Yeah, they're gonna own up to that. Duh! I claim to be no victim here; I left both newspapers of my own volition. And just because I don't reveal where I get information doesn't mean it's gossip. One need not be a journalist to form opinions, as evidenced by your comment here. And, judging by the outpouring of support I've received in this town since my column was published, there are a whole lot of people who share my opinion as to what happened. It's just that, like you, many are too afraid to publicly step forward and speak their mind. I noticed you don't have the courage of your convictions to sign your comment...

Anonymous said...

Re: anonymous' comment above:
Welcome to small-town-America. It is so easy to "find out" these kinds of things just by talking to other members of the community who have children in the schools; one can find out who the culprits are very easily even though the sorry-excuses-for-newspapers won't print the names. Sure the culprits are minors, but, hey, if you are going to be stupid enough to pull a prank like that, you better be ready for the negative attention that comes with it, no matter who your parents are.
Just picked up our copy of the Student Handbook for Windsor Schools today and sure enough, Policy 5508 "Suspension and Expulsion", under Grounds for Suspension or Expulsion lists "willful destruction or defacing of school property"....

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the anonymous writer made the comment that Rebecca's article on the vandals at Windsor High School was based on hearsay and gossip. Seems like everyone keeps tippy-toeing around things. We know it was a Lind kid that glued the locks, we know he was expelled, we know there was a special hearing and we know the kid got off scott free. I'm not sure where hearsay comes in when these are things we all know as fact. The thing I find really amazing is that I for one (I know there are many others) that have written letters to the editor of The Beacon showing our support for Rebecca on this column and golly-gee, none of those letters have ever seen print. To me, that says that the editor is a wimp and isn't willing to allow anyone with opinions that differ from his to go to print. I am now wondering if he was offered a free life time membershihp to play golf all day if he promised to keep anything negative about the Lind's out of the paper. And, just so everyone knows, I don't always agree with Rebecca, but I do respect her opinion and feel she has just as much right to express it as anyone.

A Geordie's Girl said...

Dear Rebecca,
I stumbled on your blog completely by accident (the "Next Blog" button on the navbar), but I already know I'll be return visiting from time to time. I, too, am a once-writer who got trapped in a mom's lifestyle and am just now dusting off the thesaurus and style book.

Someone (note to self: begin noting sources again) said that going to a FRIEND's family reunion is always fun, because one can share in the delightful, yet isn't emotionally invested in any of the squabbles. I feel that way about my virtual visit to Windsor. Thanks for the invitation. I'll go get another lemonade and slice of Granny's pie, then come sit in the shade and watch. ;-)

You go girl!...kas

p.s. drop in some time: http://geordiesgirl.blogspot.com/
But be gentle, I haven't done this in a long while (my kids are 18 and 15) and I'm a drama queen by nature.

Judith K. Witherow said...

"Maybe," someone has an ax to grind with a particular teacher/tutor. Teachers know how to keep the noise level down while working with a student or two. Someone who needs a tutor has already fallen behind, and perhaps another solution is to tutor in a classroom if they're so disruptive!
Teachers are underpaid, and this is a great way to help kids who are in need of extra help.