FARGO, N.D. – America’s Founding Fathers understood that a free and active press was essential to keeping government officials in check and preserving liberty. That’s why they explicitly included the freedom of the press in the First Amendment.
For much of this nation’s history, journalists exercised those rights and established themselves as society’s watchdogs. They took this duty so seriously they often described it as “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
Sadly, most of today’s journalists and “media workers” have more in common with Barney Fife than Woodward and Bernstein. And the “comfortable” – a group that includes many teacher unions – couldn’t be happier about this.
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A prime example of this sad development comes from ValleyNewsLive.com, a news site that serves North Dakota’s Fargo and Grand Forks communities.
ValleyNewsLive.com recently did 366-word exposé of why homeowners in the Fargo school district are being taxed double – double! – the amount allowed by state law.
From the news site:
“With the Fargo Public School Special Election less than 24 hours away, Valley News Live decided to ask why is the school district spending over the state-mandated cap.
“North Dakota law mandates the election every ten years to give voters a chance to review their school board’s authority to raise levies above the state-mandated cap of 70 mills. Currently Fargo Public Schools is spending 139 mills, which is 69 mills over the cap.”
The media worker (the term journalist, or even reporter, is far too generous in this case) who handled this story tracked down Fargo school board member Jim Johnson – the day before the big election – and asked him why the district needs so much money.
Johnson calmly explained that that 75 percent of the district’s $161 million annual budget goes toward personnel costs, and that those costs go up every year.
The media worker then asked Johnson a follow-up question: What would happen if the Fargo district adhered to the state-mandated spending cap?
“We could not hire replacements when teachers retire, and that would lead to increase class size, we could cut extracurricular activities both scholastic and sports teams but that is not the wishes of the general public expressed to the board,” Johnson explained.
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(Note: What you just read came word-for-word from ValleyNewsLive.com.)
Johnson also told the media worker that bringing the district’s spending in-line with the state cap would lead to $18 million in cuts from the district’s budget. He added that Fargo school leaders don’t believe they are overspending.
Well, that settles the matter … right?
Not even close.
ValleyNewsLive.com readers were given no information about why personnel costs go up every year. That would have required the media worker to understand that teacher union contracts typically require that all educators receive a pay raise every year – based on nothing more than years of service and the amount of college credits he or she has accumulated.
Nor were readers told that teacher union contracts often contain crazy-expensive clauses that give payouts to educators who retire early. Have a few extra kids in their classrooms, or have unused sick leave at the end of the school year.
The media worker didn’t ask if teachers and school employees are helping pay for their extremely expensive health insurance and pension plans.
Also left unexamined was whether or not some of the residents’ taxes are going to subsidize the Fargo teachers union by allowing its teacher-leaders to work on union business during the school day, instead of actually teaching students.
And the media worker mentioned nothing about how much school administrators rake in through salary and generous benefits.
All those major issues were ignored.
The only thing readers learned from the story is that Fargo school leaders think they need every penny they’re receiving from taxpayers to run the district, and that any reduction in funding would prompt the district to lay off a bunch of teachers and cancel school sports, even if it wasn’t necessary.
Serious journalists wouldn’t meekly accept such outrageous assertions without asking plenty of follow-up questions. But America doesn’t have many real journalists these days – only bloggers, “content providers” and unwitting propagandists.
Groups like the nation’s teacher unions love dealing with a lazy, uninformed media the same way the Harlem Globetrotters love playing the hapless Washington Generals.
The losers in this scenario are not only the taxpayers, but also the students who too often bear the brunt of K-12 cuts, just so the adults who serve them can get their automatic pay raises and their generous state pensions.
It’s a sad state of affairs, and it’s not likely to improve until Americans demand better journalism.
And that’s the way it is.
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