Jane Reuter, a reporter for Our Colorado News, wrote an article on February 8 which was favorable to the Douglas County School District (DCSD) board's fiscal governance. Then, for reasons unknown, Reuter's article content and title were edited three days after publication to include propaganda from a union front group which has actively opposed the DCSD board.
The post-publication edits were so extreme that the final result starkly contradicts her original story. The clearest example, and the one that likely impacts readers' perception most, is the change in titles. The original headline read, "Refinance Saves Taxpayers Money" - but the new headline is the dramatically different, "Schools' Credit Rating Comes With a Price, Critics Say."
The original version of the article began, "The Douglas County School District's most recent $28.8 million bond refinancing will save taxpayers about $110,000 a year, an underwriter told the board during its Feb. 5 meeting." In this sentence the tone is already set -- this is a benefit to the taxpayers and the board have proven to be responsible in their fiduciary duties.
The revised, union-approved lead set a different tone, "Douglas County School Board President John Carson defended the district’s financial reserves during the board’s Feb. 5 meeting, saying the fund ensures a credit rating that saves taxpayers money."
While Reuter initially praised the DCSD board for sound fiscal management, in the revised story board members were asked to defend their actions as if they were somehow in the wrong for their fiscal prudence.
The edited copy contained multiple quotes from union front group Strong Schools Coalition, few of which rose above the level of platitude. The items stripped from the original article in order to provide space for those opposed to innovation and fiscal discipline in our public schools include quotes from Dan O'Connell of RBC Capitol Markets.
In the original story, O'Connell claimed a savings of $5 million will be realized by the bond refinancing, which was made possible by the recent upgrade in DCSD's credit rating. These quotes were replaced by statements from Strong Schools Coalition Vice President Susan Meek and President Laura Mutton.
Meek, a failed pro-union DCSD board candidate whose supporters used the DCSD email system to campaign for Meek, was quoted in the edited article saying, “The cost of what it’s taking away from the education system far exceeds the benefits.”
This meaningless, banal quote filled the space left previously occupied by O'Connell's fiscal specifics.
In both versions, the article included statements from Carson which addressed the arguments of Meek and Mutton. Carson was quoted as saying "Some people think that's [a 4% reserve] too high. I think in the economy and budget we're in, with the fluctuations in revenue, it's the prudent thing to do. Not only prudent for the long-term planning and welfare of our district, but is obviously pays huge financial dividends back to the school district and taxpayers of Douglas County."
“It's great to capitalize on lower interest rates," Reuter quoted Mutton as saying, "But if you're withholding money from the schools in order to have a high bond rating and you're only saving taxpayers $3 a year, that's a questionable trade off." Notice the deceptive language Mutton engaged in, transforming millions of dollars in actual savings to the community into something negligible that taxpayers should ignore.
Mutton went on to say "parents are being asked to pay higher student fees", but concerns over increased burdens on parents didn't stop Mutton or Meek's support of increased taxes through a 2011 Bond Mill Levy.
When contacted by Media Trackers, Reuter said, "It's common practice for publications to update and revise articles to provide the most balanced and thorough story possible. While we strive to keep it to a minimum, we reserve the right to do so."
When pressed on specific changes and who decided to edit the original post, Reuter said, "I will forward this to my editor and leave any further resposne [sic] to his discretion." Sources familiar with Our Colorado News editorial staff have informed Media Trackers that Jerry Healey, owner and publisher of Our Colorado News, is married to a Journalism teacher who currently works in the Douglas County School District.
Post-publication edits occur in most news organizations, but these instances are usually limited to correction of factual errors and are noted as being edited. The fact that Our Colorado News went beyond factual corrections in their article, completely changing the complexion of the article three days after publication, raises serious questions about the editorial process currently in use.
This post was originally featured at Media Trackers Colorado.