Editorial: Misinformation 1; Transparency 0

By Cynthia Prairie
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

No one likes to be called out in a public meeting. And for that to happen to a newspaper, it can be more than a little disconcerting. Journalists tend to not to like to be the center of attention.  We write about the news, we don’t make it.

But The Chester Telegraph did get called out last Thursday, when Green Mountain Unified School District chair Deb Brown decided to blame us for — well, publishing an agenda.

Let’s see if I can explain: The agenda as sent out indicated that “discussion/action” would take place during an agenda item updating the board on Brown’s unilaterally hiring an attorney to defend the sports team name “Chieftains” before the Agency of Education. That has been a big deal since The Telegraph broke the story about how much money had been spent by the school system thus far and the fact that several board members were unaware of the hiring and the expense.

Brown started the meeting by saying that she needed to amend the agenda because “Discussion/Action” was listed due to a “clerical error” and neither was to take place after all. She complained that The Chester Telegraph published an edited version of the agenda that did not include “Discussion/Action” next to the same agenda item that she wanted altered to also drop the “Discussion/Action” note. Got it? Simply put, something is The Chester Telegraph‘s fault.

After several board members sought a public airing of why the attorney was hired without full board knowledge or consent — an extremely important issue when it comes to accountability — Brown said, “It was not in either of our papers of record. The agenda was, the discussion/action was not. So no one would know there was action being taken.” Although, if Brown had gotten the motion she originally asked for, no action would have been taken anyway.

An attempt by Telegraph reporter Shawn Cunningham to explain that The Chester Telegraph is not required to publish agendas but does so as a public service  was quickly dismissed by the board chair.

The red herring was launched and the meeting was adjourned. See our Sept. 25 article: Despite long agenda, GM board meets for 7 minutes; legal fees go unaddressed.

Score: Misinformation 1; Transparency 0

The fact is that The Chester Telegraph‘s publication of agendas in our news pages is our choice. We do it as a public service to promote civic engagement. Removing the note that says Discussion/Action has no bearing whatsoever on the legality of a meeting.

We remove those words to eliminate redundancy, since almost every topic on an agenda could be up for discussion or some type of “action.”  Instead, what the Vermont Secretary of State’s office suggests is that an agenda “should … include what type of actions” will occur.  Simply adding the word “action” does not clarify the type of action. (Also, check your legal definitions: Should implies a suggestion; shall is a requirement.)

So after I watched the 7-minute video of Thursday night’s meeting several times, I sent the board members a note explaining Vermont’s Open Meeting Laws in regards to agendas.

I wrote in part, “Even though The Chester Telegraph is paper of record for a number of municipalities, including the TRSU and GM school boards, there is nothing in statute that requires us to publish their agendas. Agendas and their distribution are the responsibility of the boards that issue them.  …

“There is nothing in statute requiring the schools to publish an agenda in a newspaper nor is there a requirement of ‘papers of record’ to publish agendas.  …”

Instead, a public body must warn a meeting by posting an agenda – at least 48 hours prior to the meeting – to the body’s official website if it maintains one as well as other designated places in a town.

Hopefully that settles it, but I fear not. At least one board member is under the mistaken impression that because we are paper of record and are paid to run their required public notices, we must adhere to what he believes is “accurate information.” In this age of disinformation, some people will always try to dismiss whatever we factually report that they don’t wish to see published as “inaccurate.”

Finally, “paper of record” means only that we will publish the legally required public notices that we receive from a jurisdiction. It does not mean that officials of that jurisdiction have any sway, influence or authority over what words we write, how we report the issues and who we hold accountable.

That would be hostile not only to a free and independent press, but to democracy as well.

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Filed Under: CommentaryTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mike Blackledge says:

    Malcom X, don’t like using your true name?! I’m an independent and the batting back and forth of the terms Liberal and far left, and alt right, maga, etc. are not constructive and show ones A– (behind). It’s time people like you grow up and stop the crap. We are in this together, left, right, up, down, black, white, brown, etc….
    Stick to the issues and stop the innuendoes to make a point. There may have just been a lack of communication or intentions involved and nothing earth shaking. Were you in the middle? mb

  2. Stuart Lindberg says:

    “No one likes to be called out in a public meeting. And for that to happen to a newspaper, it can be more than a little disconcerting. Journalists tend to not to like to be the center of attention. We write about the news, we don’t make it.”

    While I am glad that Cynthia Prairie is paying attention to important details like meetings being warned properly, newspapers and media in general deserve no special treatment when it comes to being “called out” on presenting misinformation. For anyone with any knowledge of history and possessing critical thinking skills it is not a secret that the Chester Telegraph sells its product by appealing to the far left citizens that dominate all politics in Vermont. While newspapers have the absolute right to ask any questions and report on whatever the public wants to know, the people they are scrutinizing have that same right to speak in their own defense.
    Malcolm X warned about the media decades ago. The Chester Telegraph, as small as it is, is no exception to his warnings.

    “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s a the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
    Malcom X