Media Critique #9

A few weeks ago I wrote a critique on an article from The Birmingham News that focused on Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. At that point, the future of Witherspoon as Birmingham’s Superintendent was very shaky. With some of The Board of Education members wanting Witherspoon to be fired, but citizens of Birmingham wanting him to stay, no one knew what would happen in the coming days.

Yesterday, a new article was published in The Birmingham News by Marie Leech. The article, titled “Birmingham schools: Witherspoon’s future a likely topic today,” discusses what the current situation is. Leech begins by setting the scene. She explains that a meeting of The Board of Education members was recently scheduled and although Witherspoon’s future was not on the agenda to be discussed, it would most likely be added. He is, after all, currently a hot topic. Weeks have gone by while board members have wavered on how to evaluate his performance and it has become the general consensus of the public for a decision to be made one way or the other. Leech includes a quote from board member Phyllis Wyne saying, “We need to let him know one way or the other. That’s the professional thing to do.”

The board called a special meeting on Good Friday at 5:00pm to discuss Witherspoon’s future, but almost half of the board members were “blindsided by the called board meeting” and two members said they wouldn’t be able to attend. A few lines down Leech pokes fun at the board members by pointing out that they canceled the special meeting two hours before it was set to begin. It’s likely that they canceled it after hearing complaints from business and civic leaders, parents and community members. Unfortunately, the board doesn’t seem to realize what people are really protesting. Citizens weren’t upset because of the special meeting; they were upset that Witherspoon might be fired.

Leech includes a quote from Randall Woodfin, founder of the grass-roots group Citizens Are Responsible for Education, saying “‘In fairness from a professional standpoint, they need to make a decision one way or the other…Of course, we hope they extend his contract. And the public needs to remind them (board members) that Dr. Witherspoon’s contract expires June 30, 2013, but theirs expires eight weeks later,” he said, referring to the next school board election.”  This is a very strong point that doesn’t appear to have been covered before. Witherspoon is not the only one that might not have a job soon. Although Leech never says so directly, it is implied that board members should watch out because if they fire Witherspoon, they will soon be jobless as well.

Leech then includes a quote from Tyrone Belcher, one of the board members. “All these folks coming out for him, they ain’t got kids in the school system. But in my community? They don’t give a damn about Witherspoon,” Belcher said. “All he’s doing is going around here — ‘academy here, IB program there.’ But there’s students everywhere.” From a reader’s perspective, this quote casts a very poor light on all of the board members. First of all, the fact that Belcher says “ain’t” is not a good reflection for someone in education, and an even worse reflection on those that are in charge of education. Also, Belcher chose to cuss in his statement. For some people this isn’t offensive, but Belcher should have been mindful that all types of people will see his statement, and many will likely be offended. This quote pushes readers, many of which happen to be voters, away from siding with Board of Education members.

At the end of the article Mayor William Bell, when talking about Witherspoon and the board, says “I think they’ll be able to work something out to be on the same page.” This sounds like a nice way to wrap up the article, but in actuality it left me very confused. Why will something be worked out? Is there proof that board members have changed their minds? If so, why aren’t there any quotes from those members? I will say, though, that Leech provided many good quotes from varying sources including direct quotes from Wyne, Woodfin, and Belcher. She also included indirect quotes from State Superintendent Tommy Bice and former federal Judge U.W. Clemon.

Overall, the article was a good “update” story on what has happened concerning Witherspoon and The Board of Education. However, in the middle of the article Leech spends way too much time discussing whether Birmingham should have charter schools or not. At the end of the day, the reader is not interested in the future of charter schools in Birmingham. What he or she wants to know is the latest news on Witherspoon. The space taken discussing charter schools would have been better used for interview quotes from additional board members. In my opinion, the end of the article was also poorly written. Leech had many great quotes and it would have been better for her to end on a powerful quote instead of one from Bell that only confused readers even further. On the whole, the article had a lot of good information but it took too long to find the information and it ended on a dull note.

The article can be found here.

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