AFTER TWO MONTH DEADLOCK, NORTH SHORE BOE DESIGNATES OFFICIAL NEWSPAPERS
September 4, 2015 -- At its regularly scheduled meeting this past August 28, the North Shore Board of Education voted 4 to 2 to designate the Glen Cove Record Pilot and the Gold Coast Gazette the “official” school district newspapers for the 2015-16 school year - two months after a 3-3 split vote at the Board’s annual organizational meeting in July left the district temporarily without an official broadsheet. Trustee Sara Jones who had voted “no” in July, was not present last Thursday, and Board President Herman Berliner, who voted “yes” last Thursday, was not present for the July vote.
At the July 7 Annual meeting, during which the Board makes various appointments for the year, Trustees Joanna Commander, Lara Gonzalez, and Sara Jones expressed concerns about the journalistic ethics of the Gold Coast Gazette’s publication of full page anonymous advertisements that had been published in December 2014 and April 2015 that made unsubstantiated allegations that a current school board member had used taxpayer resources for electioneering activities when she had run for school board. That claim was also included in a petition to the New York State Commissioner of Education to overturn the 2014 school board election. In April, only a day or two after the second anonymous advertisement was published, the Commissioner of Education ruled against the petition on procedural grounds and for a lack of merit to the claims.
At a special meeting called in early August, the discussion resumed, and the board voted unanimously to designate the papers as “official” through August 31.
At last Thursday’s meeting, Trustees Gonzalez and Commander once again expressed their concerns about the practice of publishing anonymous ads that make unsubstantiated claims against individuals.
Trustee Commander said that journalists have a responsibility to “fact-check” and that the publication of the anonymous ad was irresponsible.
"I think there is a difference between a newspaper publishing an irresponsible article that they authored," responded, Trustee Marianne Russo, "and being committed to publishing an ad in the paper that someone else has authored. I think they have a right. . . . They need ads to exist. I feel it is a paper's right."
She continued, "There is a difference between publishing an article and not checking your facts, and accepting an ad."
Dr. Herman Berliner disagreed. “Accepting anonymous ads is not an appropriate policy; it’s not a responsible policy. When there’s an allegation against someone in a newspaper article, the person is given an opportunity to respond. . . . In an ad like this, when you have anonymous accusations there is no opportunity for the person to respond and set the record straight. That to me is incredibly troublesome. You can always respond with a letter to the editor, but a letter to the editor does not get the notice that you get with an anonymous full page ad. I don’t think this is appropriate journalistic behaviour. Newsday certainly wouldn’t do something like this. It is certainly the right of the newspaper but I just don’t think this is responsible journalism.”
Trustee Russo replied that she understood Dr. Berliner’s point, and that she is “sorry that there were unfortunate remarks made in the paper.” Continuing, she said that she believed that there were statements made about her in "letters to the editor" when she was running for school board a couple of years ago that were “untrue.”
“If you’re going to put yourself up here you have to have thick skin, people are going to criticize you and it’s not fun, it’s not nice, but it happens,” she said. “It’s part of being a public figure.”
“I truly believe these ads did a disjustice to you,” said Trustee Nightingale addressing Trustee Commander. He explained however that he had “an issue with the curtailing of free speech.”
“If I take a full page ad criticizing the President, he can take out a full page ad responding to me. It’s just a venue for free speech.” As a recourse, he continued, one could choose not to buy the newspaper. “I know there’s been a disjustice here, but we’ve got to strike a balance. We don’t want to limit people’s speech too much.”
“I don’t think the suggestion here is that we want to tell a paper what they can and cannot do,” said Trustee Labatte. She continued that she believed that the two papers should be designated official papers “because they cover the district well.” She continued that she believed it was appropriate to have a discussion about it.
Trustee Gonzalez said she understands very well the importance of the right to freedom of expression, but she added “there is a right to face our accuser that is imbedded in law.”
“I’m a proponent of face to face dialogue, open and honest,” she continued. “I respect the right to disagree but I think we need to be consistent with the values of the community and what we want to foster as board members. . . . There’s enough mistrust and lack of communication. We always need to look for opportunities to increase the communication and foster the trust.”
During public comment, Kevin Horton the publisher of the Gold Coast Gazette said that he understood the points that were being made, but reminded the board that they are public officials and subject to criticism.” He said that freedom of speech gave the sponsor of the ad the right to say what he wanted to say. He continued that he had looked into the situation, and that at that time there had been allegations. “They were allegations that turned out not to be true,” he agreed. “But at the time,” he said, “there were allegations.”
“It was not a news story,” Mr. Horton added, “so we did not have to do the fair and balanced.” He said that not designating the Gazette as an official newspaper would be “censorship.”
“As educators you should know that you should not censor somebody,” he asserted.
“I think you miss the point,” replied President Berliner, “I was the one who voted in favor of making you the official newspaper. I think you were totally irresponsible. You had the option of not accepting that ad. There are many newspapers who would not accept it. I was one of the people against whom there was an unjust accusation. I didn’t have the chance to respond. That’s why I think anonymous ads are a tremendous disservice. I am not against the Gazette being the official newspaper of the district. But if you ask me if I have any respect for what you have done . . . .”
“I have an open door policy - you could have called me that week,” Mr. Horton interrupted. “It did not have to come to this.”
Trustee Labatte said that she disagreed with the argument that not making the Gazette the official Newspaper would be censorship. “We do not designate Newsday, but we are not censoring them.”
“We designate a public newspaper to put our public notices in,” she said, and that additionally the district’s public relations director sends articles to many papers, not just the official ones, for publication. “We are not censoring a paper because we do not designate them,” she reiterated.
Trustee Michael Nightingale said to Mr. Horton that he liked the Gazette’s positive coverage of the district and Mr. Horton’s “Kevin’s Corner” column.
Schools Superintendent, Dr. Edward Melnick has said that under state law, districts are not required to designate official newspapers, but North School board policy requires that the board “shall designate the district’s official newspapers” - the “s” requiring that there be more than one. That policy, the board has the authority to change, he has explained.
In response to questions from Northwordnews prior to the meeting, district officials said that districts must post public notices for school board elections in two newspapers. In a FOIL request to the district, Northwordnews asked if state law required that other types of public notices (such as notices of public hearings, requests for bids for services, purchases and other business-related activities) be posted in two newspapers. The following reply was given: “School districts are required by law to publish notices in the official newspaper(s) of the school district. Each year the North Shore Board of Education designates its official newspaper(s). For the 2014-15 school year the official newspapers of the school district were the Glen Cove Record Pilot and the Gold Coast Gazette. As a result, we were required to publish all legal notices in both of these newspapers.”
Last year the district paid $2516.50 to the Gazette and $2677.60 to the Record Pilot for the publication of public notices.
At the July 7 and August 28 meetings there was no discussion as to whether other print publications ought to be considered, or about cost or circulation, or whether it would be better for the district to have one official newspaper or many.
Some districts designate a single newspaper as the official paper, alternating from one weekly to another from one year to the next (Northport, for instance), while others designate several newspapers each year.
The Glen Cove School District's official newspapers are the Glen Cove Record Pilot and Newsday; and Roslyn's are the Roslyn News, the Roslyn Times, Long Island Business News, and Newsday.
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