There’s a lazy form of news story that crops up in the U.K. from time to time. A headteacher, usually new to the post, will attempt to turn a school around by enforcing some of its rules. This will annoy a few students and parents. A journalist then writes up these complaints, naming the school and publicly shaming the head.
There is a problem of balance here. As a public servant, the headteacher is in no position to rebut or add context to the specific claims that are made. So the claims just hang there. Obviously, a responsible journalist should seek out other parents and students to triangulate the views of a few, but that rarely happens.
In a recent case, a headteacher had announced plans to leave his post at a school and move on to another school. A local journalist saw some negative comments on Facebook and decided that there was a story in this. Apparently, a small group of parents and former students were unhappy with the headteacher enforcing uniform rules.
The piece was originally titled, “Parents and former pupils say ‘good riddance’ to former headteacher…” In a twist to the usual tale, it provoked a massive backlash in the paper’s own comments section and on social media. Since the backlash, the paper in question has closed the comments (huh?), renamed the article and edited it slightly.
Despite being happy to name and shame a public servant in the local rag, the journalist in question seems uncomfortable with the public criticism it has provoked. This is, perhaps, a double standard.
I am not aware of any online criticism that was abusive towards the journalist but if there was any then I strongly condemn it. I have seen a lot of comments that fairly and reasonably criticise the article and voice support for the headteacher concerned.
Bear in mind that the school in question was marked as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted when this headteacher took over and has improved since. So there are plenty who are prepared to speak up on his behalf.
I think this episode demonstrates the emerging relationship between old and new media. The tired, easy journalism of the past is now open to public scrutiny in a way not previously seen. You can’t silence critics by simply closing your comments section.