What makes ‘breaking news’?

Your Breaking News Special Edition of Saturday, May 25, 2013 has proven very revealing — and this has more to do with your perceived need for the propagation of the special publication itself than with any information intended to be communicated by the story therein!

That an exercise [of introducing curriculum and other changes at the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School by Principal Jeff Broomes] (an exercise not uncommon in our secondary schools) is now deemed to be “Breaking News” deserving of a special Saturday edition betrays so much about the orientation of the editorial board of Barbados Today. Most schools who undertake such an exercise see absolutely no need to have this — or their every other move — transmogrified into a trumpeted, hyped-up media spectacle. “Breaking News”?

However, I do readily concede that the understated, unaffected way of getting things done is decidedly not the “nature of the beast” involved here. I accept, too, that Barbados Today’s extensive coverage of the particular occasion might have infinitely more to do with its sympathy with the relentless public relations contortions exhibited by this individual than with any real story of national import worthy of being categorised as “Breaking News” and meriting a special Saturday edition.

I am all too aware that the paper is yours and its space can be exploited in any manner you see fit. What exactly constitutes “Breaking News” of such national significance is entirely at your discretion, I suppose, but your readers will realise the bar that you have now set and would do well to keep careful tabs on what other occasions receive and do not receive similar special attention from Barbados Today and do comparative analyses. That would be very interesting.

Surely you will not expect that your editorial decisions will not come under close scrutiny. Especially if it is felt that your media house has joined the bandwagon to reduce journalism to sensationalist titillation, at best and, at worst, crass sycophancy, and to diminish journalists to being nothing more than mere conduits of public relations theatre.

While it is true that a pictorial spread may not accurately reflect an event (and I would be loathe to think that Barbados Today would be guilty of such shoddiness!), the pictures that did not accompany the story of the particular edition may indeed be worth the proverbial “thousand words”!

Did the school’s teachers turn out in their numbers and Barbados Today just did not see it fit to include a picture which captured this enthusiastic, supportive group? Or were they absent? The parents’ turnout to hear this momentous “Breaking News” revelation deserving of a special edition of a national newspaper was, if the picture is to be believed, dismal — and that is being charitable.

I counted 14 adults in the picture chosen to represent those parents who did attend the auspicious “Breaking News” spectacle. I am presuming, of course, that the administrative organisation at the school would have ensured that this meeting would have been adequately advertised and parents given proper notice of its “Breaking News” nature.

One can only hope that this principal is not up to his characteristic modus operandi of imposing things upon a school without getting the buy-in (or even proper knowledge, as has been his wont in the past!) of parents and teachers. It is no secret that many an idea devised by this character has failed magnificently to bear anything but withered fruit (if any fruit at all) because, to a great extent, of:

* His arrogant unwillingness to consult effectively with intelligent, independent-minded adults, be they parents and/or teachers;

* His sheer incapability to consider properly divergent views re his ideas;

* His signal inability to implement and operationalise efficiently these ideas;

* His blatant inability to manage the devil-in-the-details matters;

* His abject failure to foster an environment conducive to the success of these ideas.

Yes, it is a very special broom that can sweep such woeful management practices under the carpet.

I sincerely hope that he has abandoned the utterly discredited modus operandi to which he so doggedly clung at his former place of occupation. But, as the old adage warns us, it is profoundly difficult for an old dog to learn new tricks. It is very interesting that in an article about the same “Breaking News” show which appears in your Monday, May 27, 2013 edition [page 10], the principal is quoted as saying with reference to some programme he is instituting at the school: “This is going to be a battle with me and the staff, but all that will happen, they will cuss me…, but I ain’t gine change.” Ah well, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. “New Start”, Mr. Editor?

And so I will continue to pray fervently for this man and any other human being that may come to be involved in any institution or endeavour on which he may be superimposed. May God help them all.

— Lionel James

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