Over the past couple of weeks, a number of readers have pushed a dialogue about The Leader and its quality of journalism. While our wonderful editor, Adam Zuvanich, addressed some of this in last week’s column, I need to offer perspective to the conversation.
Specifically, some of our reporting on Waltrip High School has been difficult – for us, but mostly for the people who love Waltrip, who want to see it succeed, and who have fond memories of their childhood school.
Two weeks ago, we reported about a group of students and parents who complained to the HISD board. And just as we were leaving the office last Friday, we heard from another group of parents who told us about a brawl that covered half the gymnasium floor. We were even provided video of the melee and made a grueling decision that the public needed to know about – and see – this fight. High school fights are a dime a dozen, and I’ve seen plenty of them. This was no dime.
Readers, as should be the case with any good newspaper, let us have it. Among other things, we were told:
- We shouldn’t show video of a fight at Waltrip.
- We shouldn’t write stories about a fight; instead, we should focus on the positive stories from the school.
- Did we do even a smidge of research on the fight, or did we just post a story to inflame the masses?
- The Leader now believes that one fight at a high school validates writing a story. Guess what? the reader asked. These fights happen daily.
These are but a sampling of the comments we’ve received, but they cover the most important accusations I want to personally address. For almost seven years, I’ve devoted every ounce of my professional energy to publishing a community newspaper that matters. In a time when media has completely lost its mind, The Leader has worked to be a bastion for relevant news, wonderful stories about the community, and perspective that you can’t find in any other publication. We’ve sought to remain focused on the issues that impact our neighborhoods, while doing our best to address concerns that could stand a little light.
What I want readers to understand today is what we couldn’t tell you yesterday, for lack of verification. For instance:
The fight we showed from Waltrip wasn’t the only one that day. One teacher told us there may have been as many as five. Another parent said her daughter knew of four. To us, the melee in the gym wasn’t one fight – there were multiple fights at the same time, without an adult to be found.
Another concern we had, as has been verified to us by parents now, is that no notification was given to parents about some of the safety concerns at the school. There were notifications about prom and other school events, but nothing about any safety concerns – or that the problem was being addressed. As far as we know, that still has not happened.
We also learned, but couldn’t verify until early this week, that ambulances were called to the school to transport students injured in the fight. When ambulances are required for a high school fight, we believe it goes beyond the pale of just kids being kids.
In all of the reporting we’ve done on this issue – and Adam has done another great job in today’s edition giving more insight into some of the concerns – I hope readers will understand two things.
First, more than at any other time during our ownership of The Leader, we research and interview our work better than ever before. Together, Adam and I spent most of our Friday night on the phone. Our last conversation was at 11 p.m., after I had talked to one parent and he had talked to two others. We called and emailed the HISD Press Office to hopefully get the administration’s perspective on the issue. Adam texted with Elizabeth Santos, the HISD trustee who represents Waltrip, and she had very few details. We got another call from HISD that said they wouldn’t release anything other than an acknowledgement that the brawl happened. And when we followed up to ask about multiple fights on the same day, we were told HISD would have no further comment.
In the course of reporting on this story, we’ve talked to no fewer than 12 people to piece information together, and we’ve only reported when three or more people have corroborated the same things.
For anyone to imply that we haven’t researched our reporting is just wrong. Trust me, I’ve read plenty of reporting that was done half-way. That was not the case.
Second, and most important, I want to reiterate the purpose for a media organization like us – one that is proud to represent our community – reporting on such an unsettling story.
We have one goal, and one goal only. We want the problems at Waltrip addressed. We want the school to improve. We want the administration to be candid with the parents. And we want our students to walk into school without an ounce of fear. They deserve that, and every single one of us should want that.
Sure, we could sweep the negativity under the gym bleachers, but that doesn’t help the problem.
Here’s what I can guarantee: Regardless of HISD’s transparency with us, there are conversations happening inside the halls of Waltrip and HISD’s administrative office. We know for a fact Santos is asking for answers. We’re pretty sure teachers and administrators at Waltrip have security top of mind. And we know parents and their children are having conversations about personal safety in light of the discontent at the school.
In a year from now – maybe at the start of next semester – all of this will be forgotten. But today, right now, it is important that we’re aware. It’s important that something change. And if some of our readers are mad at us, and question our judgment, we’ll take that a thousand times over if Waltrip High School improves.