For the most part, parents like to see their children’s names and pictures in the local newspaper.
Whether the occasion is a classroom activity, a band concert, a pep rally or an individual award, having a child featured in print is an experience that can make a parent’s day.
Over the last few weeks, those opportunities have been few and far between locally, thanks to a recently enacted policy by the Killeen Independent School District that halted submission of feature articles and photos to the Killeen Daily Herald and also sought to ban the newspaper from reproducing content from the school district’s website.
The reason for the new policy? The Herald ran photos that were originally submitted to accompany feature stories out of context. The newspaper used the photos to illustrate news stories about the district, and KISD higher-ups took exception to the practice.
However, rather than express their concerns to the Herald, KISD leadership took punitive action, cutting the paper off from district-produced content immediately.
Only the paper didn’t find out immediately.
The flow of KISD articles stopped on Sept. 1, and it wasn’t until Sept. 9, in response to an inquiry about content from a Herald editor, that KISD’s communications director informed the newspaper that it no longer had access to the articles and photos.
In response, a Herald editor wrote to Superintendent John Craft and KISD school board members pointing out the problems with the new policy and asking to discuss the matter.
The Herald got its answer at the end of that week, when the district’s communications director posted a letter to the community on KISD’s website, giving the district’s rationale for cutting the Herald off from KISD content.
So, here we are, more than three weeks later, and what is the upshot of KISD’s decision?
The most obvious consequence is that the community is seeing less positive coverage of the district in the newspaper — certainly not what the Herald’s management would prefer.
Prior to Sept. 1, the Herald received regular submissions of news and feature articles, as well as photos, from the district’s longtime communications specialist. These articles ranged from school dedications and graduations to awards ceremonies and features about KISD staffers.
Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, the KISD communications specialist shared 14 articles with the Herald, and the newspaper gave many of them prominent play, with multiple photos.
During the 2020 school year, the KISD reporter shared more than 90 articles with the Herald, as well as dozens of photos to accompany the stories.
In addition, KISD’s writer frequently submitted additional photos for publication in the Harker Heights Herald, giving the district even more positive exposure.
Now that valuable information pipeline has been severed.
To be fair, the district has not barred the Herald from covering district events and activities, nor has KISD withheld advance notification of these events.
But in a competitive media market such as the Killeen-Fort Hood area, the Herald simply can’t afford to regularly devote time to covering random school activities. That’s what the district communications specialist did — and does — best.
Further, the district may not have the right to ban the Herald from accessing content from KISD’s website. As the district is a taxpayer-funded governmental entity, information on its website can be considered in the public domain, as media law has generally held.
Still, the photos on the website are compressed and of low resolution, making their reproduction in print problematic. In addition, they frequently lack caption information, making it impossible to give context to the photos. So simply accessing the images is not a workable solution.
Singling out one media entity for punitive action should be troubling to supporters of a free press. This is particularly so, when a competing media outlet is the former employer of the district’s communications director, who undoubtedly had a hand in drafting the new policy.
Herald readers have spoken out — both in Facebook comments and letters to the editor — against the district’s policy and have recognized the unfair playing field it attempts to create.
Of course, the district’s objective here is hardly a secret. The superintendent and communications director want to control the message. If the Herald publishes articles that shine a harsh light on district policies or question decisions made by district administration, the newspaper must be punished.
And that’s essentially what the district’s petty, vindictive restrictions are meant to do.
But by cutting the newspaper off from the flow of positive, well-written articles and photos, the district is also essentially punishing the community — especially the parents and grandparents who would want to clip articles for their scrapbooks or share with friends.
More importantly, the district is punishing itself.
By restricting access to articles about the district’s many interesting programs and inspiring educators, KISD is not allowing the community’s longtime newspaper to provide its readers with a complete account of what goes on in the state’s 10th-largest school district.
And that’s a shame, because there is so much positive news coming out of KISD that deserves publicity beyond the confines of the district’s website.
What has been especially troubling in the weeks following the district’s new restrictions is the silence coming from the school board.
By not responding to the Herald’s request for a discussion on the policy, and by not addressing the issue publicly, it can be assumed that board members are in support of the restrictive measures imposed by the superintendent and the communications director.
As the board is Craft’s boss, it is disappointing that members are either unwilling or unable to confront the superintendent about his directive that plays favorites among the media and reduces the district’s positive outreach in the community.
Given the negative effects the district’s new media protocols have on KISD, the Herald and the community at-large, the best course of action would be to replace the policy.
In the long run, however, it may be prudent to replace those who drafted and supported it.