As many bloggers have pointed out, yes, we did drop the ball on this story. That’s the bottom line and we’re not denying it. Here’s how the great non-National Science Fair story came about:
Our niche as a community newspaper is covering the news of Bee County. We will no doubt publish hundreds of student awards stories this year – from spelling bees to UIL musical solos to football and welding competitions. This is what we do and don’t mind sharing the good news about kids doing well.
So our reporter takes a call from the principal at R.A. Hall Elementary School and is asked to come take a picture and write up a story on a fourth-grader who has won the junior division of the National Science Fair. That’s a good story in a small community, so off the reporter goes.
There with the school principal are the student and her father, who is a community member of note having been appointed to the school board and running for that post in 2008. They’ve got a letter, an engraved plaque, trophy and medal. The reporter takes the picture, gathers quotes, grabs a copy of the letter and heads back to the office to file this as one of her many stories for the week.
Now this is a drill we replicate multiple times a week. It’s not a situation where our first thought is to send out an investigative reporter. We’re looking at it in the context of a local student makes good, not through the prism of a blogging battleground for, or against, global warming.
As the story progressed through editing, its oddities did register somewhat with the idea of exploring the ironies in a more detailed follow-up story, including some portion of the project itself.
It’s not in our normal protocol to phone foundations every time a student receives an award or scholarship – particularly when the news comes through the schools. With the advantage of hindsight and several days to reconsider events, we certainly should have done so in this case.
As today’s story demonstrates, there are still many unanswered questions and things that don’t add up in this bizarre episode. We’re still not sure where it yet ends.
To our readers, we owe a mea culpa. To the bloggers, a thank you for the assist (and head slaps).