Saturday, August 29, 2009

Using the right words

I'll use a London Free Press article published today by Kelly Pedro as an example, but this happens often in all reporting, particular education reporting.
First, its headline: "Blyth school closing gets second look," which misdirects the reader slightly, as this is the Avon Maitland DSB's review of a number of schools where the trustee vote is leading to more than one school closure, construction of a modified 'North Maitland Centre of Excellence' for JK-6 and shuttling some Grade 7-8 students to F.E. Madill in Wingham. I've previously blogged about this review— the most recent posts are here, and here.
The journalists who write the articles don't often write headlines. I don't. It's left to copy editors and paginators to write headlines, sub-heads and 'kickers' to run with stories, depending on the editor's read of the article and the space available for the head. That said, it was the Blyth community that petitioned the ministry for a review, so it's that school that gets mentioned first.
However, my quibble is with some of the language used in this article. Bolds and italics are my emphasis.
A small elementary school in Blyth slated to close may have a second chance.
Following an appeal from parents, the Ministry of Education has appointed a facilitator to examine if the Avon Maitland District school board followed its rules in making the decision to close Blyth public school.
The decision prompted an appeal from parents and community members who said the board didn't follow its policies.
A ministry spokesperson said a facilitator will be appointed soon and an administrative review will occur this fall.
The facilitator will meet with the board, the people who signed the petition and members of the review committee and look at the board's policy.
The facilitator may make recommendations, but has no legislative authority to overturn the board's decision, the spokesperson said.
(Parent Lisa) Bieman said she hopes the board revisits its decision.
Southwest Middlesex Mayor Doug Reycraft, who is also chairperson of the Community Schools Alliance, said the appointment of a facilitator may not change anything.
Two communities appealed a Thames Valley District school board decision to close Caradoc South public school in Melbourne and Metcalfe Central public school in Adelaide-Metcalfe, but the facilitator ruled the board followed its policy and the appeals were dismissed.
There is no appeal function as part of the provincial pupil accommodation guidelines. It doesn't exist, and the word appeal is not used, specifically (I would guess) because the administrative review cannot change the decision of the board of trustees. Not in the first draft of the policy released by former minister Gerard Kennedy, and not in the recent revision under Kathleen Wynne. Appeal and petition can be synonyms, however appeal as defined here speaks about 'correctness of a ruling.' Ministry reviews cannot change the ruling (decision) only the process. So petition may be jargon, which copy editors routinely remove from articles and reporters are discouraged from using, however it actually speaks to the intent of the action in a ministry review better than appeal.
That said, there is some very precise and great language used here— when Bieman is quoted hoping the board (trustees) may revisit the decision. That's correct because only the trustees can revisit the earlier vote and change it, although that too depends on AMDSB's specific procedural bylaw. So yes, they may revisit it.
I'd bet an XL Timmy's double-double they won't, even if the review tells them their policy wasn't followed.
As to the language: Reporters who have the time to become well-versed in the intricacies of their beats can fight and win battles against copy editors over these sorts of things. It's unfortunate most papers don't keep their education reporters in the beat long enough for that to happen more often.


Anonymous said...

If there is not consequence(s) to a Review or the Board, why have a procedure to follow in the first place?

Education Reporter said...

Because some boards don't follow their procedure. Or their procedure doesn't allow for significant public input. Or their review committee meetings are run in a way that committee members felt didn't provide them any opportunity to ask questions.
These are some of the items picked up by reviewers to-date.