Paul Rilling: Covering the Anniston Middle School saga
Jan 09, 2014 | 4129 views |  0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Jan. 4, The Star’s story about the Anniston City Council deciding not to purchase the Anniston Middle School property raised questions about transparency in government.

The story, by Patrick McCreless, reported that the council informed the Anniston Board of Education of its decision “last week.” The story reported that the understanding that the city would purchase the property for economic development was canceled by the council because of the costs of the project.

When and how did the council make its decision? Was the decision unanimous? If the issue was considered at a closed meeting, it would appear to be a violation of the state open-meetings law. The Star needs to find out what happened.

Gamecocks on TV

Sportswriter Al Muskewitz and photographer Trent Penny provided solid coverage of Jacksonville State University’s loss to Eastern Washington in a quarterfinal game of the FCS playoffs. One photo captured a key moment, when JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins was injured and forced to leave the game (Dec. 15, 1C).

However, The Star provided no help to the JSU fans who hoped to follow the game on TV. The college football TV listing in the newspaper Dec. 14 did not list the JSU game, but “Today’s College Breakdown,” on Page 3C, said the game would be televised on ESPN3. But try to find ESPN3 on TV. It isn’t there. Those fans with time and patience might have learned that ESPN3 is an online-only channel and isn’t on traditional cable television.

Covering graduation

The Star failed to cover an important area event, the fall graduation exercises at JSU on Dec. 13. Reader William Walter of Jacksonville noted the omission in Speak Out (Dec. 21, 6A). There was a story Dec. 14 by McCreless that told of an Australian woman who traveled to Jacksonville to receive a graduate degree in emergency management she earned online. Twenty-seven students received emergency management diplomas according to the story, which did not mention that several hundred other students also graduated. The event was well reported by the Jacksonville News, a report that would have been available to The Star because both are owned by Consolidated Publishing Co.

A better year in 2013

A New Year’s article had a backward-looking headline, “Poll: Americans hopeful for a better year in 2013” (Dec. 27, 4B). However, the story appeared in Bill Edwards’ Coffee Break, so maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

Must-reads in The Star

There were a number of useful in-depth stories in December’s papers. One by Tim Lockette was about the failure of Alabama’s Constitutional Review Commission to propose substantial changes in the present lack of home-rule powers for local governments. It did note that county commissioners would welcome the few “modest” changes suggested (Dec. 1, 1A).

Another, also by Lockette, analyzed the differences between Alabama and Kentucky in handling the Affordable Care Act. The article reported that the two states are similar in many ways: they are among the poorest states; the Republicans carried both in 2012. In Alabama, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley refused to build a state insurance exchange. He also declined to expand Medicaid in Alabama. In Kentucky under Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, the state has its own exchange and has welcomed Medicaid expansion. The Kentucky state exchange, called Kynect, “has been praised as a model of how health care reform should work.” The story considered the long-term impacts of these decisions on the two states (Dec. 8, 1A).

“Shrugging off the increase,” by Brian Anderson, was about the scheduled increase in postal rates. The story said the U.S. Postal Service is increasing “postage stamp prices from 46 cents to 49 cents as well as increasing all first-class mail by 6 percent.” The sentence is redundant. The 46-cent stamp is first-class mail and the hike to 49 cents is a 6 percent increase. There was no information on changes in other mailing rates, such as packages, magazines and newspapers. The date of the rate changes was not given, other than “January.” The story tried to assess local reaction but didn’t find much. There were three paragraphs about the response of one customer at the Anniston Post Office, who said, “What do I care about another couple of cents?” The interviews with a number of local governments and agencies found very little reaction. They could have been summarized in a sentence or two.

The story also reported that this is “the biggest increase in prices in 11 years.” How many times has the price of stamps been raised in 11 years? What did they cost 11 years ago? (Dec. 27, 1A.)

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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