Scott Stanford: Pilot made right choice on e-mails
Steamboat Springs — In the past week, the Pilot & Today staff has taken criticism for how we handled e-mails sent by School Board member John DeVincentis during his last year as principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School.
Let me address, individually, the issues raised:
n The newspaper should reveal the identity of the person who provided the e-mails.
Paper copies of the e-mails were left in brown manila envelopes for Suzanne Schlicht, the newspaper’s general manager. Schlicht was not present when the e-mails were delivered. Someone later took credit for delivering the e-mails but asked not to be identified.
I’m an advocate for openness, and I certainly don’t like quoting anonymous sources in stories. But that’s not what happened here. In every story, there is a name attached to every person who alleges wrongdoing by DeVincentis. There is a name attached to every person who calls on him to resign.
We did not solicit the e-mails and we did not use illegal means to obtain them. Someone gave them to us. We took the time – more than a week – to verify them and determine that they were newsworthy. At that point, how we got them no longer was important.
What is important is fulfilling our obligation to respect our source’s anonymity.
n The newspaper invaded DeVincentis’ privacy.
In the early days of the Internet, a smart person told me never to write an e-mail that I wouldn’t want my grandmother to read. Once you click “send,” you have relinquished control over who will see your e-mails. Using a public school computer and public school e-mail account only lessens the expectation of privacy. The school district warned DeVincentis of this.
Finally, DeVincentis is, in journalism speak, a significant public figure. When he decided to seek and accept a seat on the School Board, he gave up a certain level of privacy that the average Joe might expect. In layman’s terms, the e-mails of a principal and School Board candidate matter more than the e-mails of a fifth-grade teacher.
n The e-mails are old and therefore not newsworthy.
The last of the e-mails was written less than two years ago. When he was writing them, DeVincentis was an elementary school principal and, by his own admission, had already made the decision to run for the School Board. The e-mails reveal a level of anger and vindictiveness – sustained during a period of 10 months – that might have altered the 2005 election had the public known.
Further, the e-mails reveal DeVincentis had anger toward Superintendent Donna Howell before he earned a seat on the board.
Despite the board’s claims to the contrary, Howell is under fire. She has been the subject of seven closed sessions and two facilitated discussions since the first of the year. School Board President Denise Connelly said last week that “everything is up in the air” when it comes to Howell’s job status. This School Board’s most important job is hiring, firing and directing the superintendent, and the e-mails are absolutely relevant to DeVincentis’ present and future interactions with Howell.
n Similar e-mails could be found on anyone’s computer.
The e-mails are newsworthy, in part, simply because their content is so outside the norm, particularly for a public official who should know better. I have read all of the e-mails multiple times. I honestly can’t recall anything comparable coming to me or being sent by me. I think most people feel the same way.
Obviously there were two options for handling these e-mails once we received them. I think we absolutely made the right choice.
A lot of people have called or e-mailed me in the past few days, but I’m always open for more feedback on this or other subjects. You know how to reach me.
Scott Stanford’s From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Visit his blog at steamboatpilot.com/stanford, call him at 871-4221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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