Last Wednesday morning, the Newport Independent social media page became a breeding ground for jabs at the Newport School District after announcing that the school was conducting an active shooter drill on campus. This reporter is well-known to carry many responsibilities in the community and works hard to ensure that no lines are crossed, making known to individuals which capacity is being filled. After ensuring that the students on campus were safe, the report was released of the events as they unfolded. What happened in the aftermath revealed the lack of knowledge about how procedures work, and, sadly, showed a lack of control over emotions by uninvolved readers, parents who were unreasonable and people who weren’t involved. As a parent, my first responsibility was to my girls. I received the text from the school quickly followed by a personal text from Superintendent Dr. Larry Bennett assuring me that the kids are ok. My kids were ok. I got on the phone and offered my support as law enforcement to school resource officer Donnie Schulz. He assured me that the police department was on scene and everything was ok. I called the law enforcement officers I knew would be on scene and got no answer. I knew they were busy and everything was ok.
Then I became the reporter. I released what was happening per the text from the school and per the police department. As a reporter, you’re taught to cover the story from all sides if possible, getting a well-rounded picture of what is happening. Almost immediately after posting the story, responses began flooding in from angry parents, concerned parents, and people who don’t have children in the school district. I couldn’t respond to what I didn’t yet know, so I watched patiently, waited for more news, answered personal texts in reference to the unfolding events, and made calls for further input.
In the world of social media, words can be written, and deleted, with the push of a button with the safety screen of the internet. Things can be said that affect others’ opinions, without actually facing their target. Minds can be altered by the power of the word without the speaker having to face the consequences of their lashing. We’ve seen the power of the word in the massive numbers of suicides directly related to social media bullying. We’ve seen people get fired for their quick fingers reacting to an office situation with no actual meeting to discuss the outrage. We’ve watched investigations unfold over careless threats made in fun that resulted in panic. And we’ve watched the crucifixion of leaders in various capacities by people who should be more faithful to their work.
I have written at least a handful of stories in the past few years where I’ve seen this kind of outrage, calls for the firing of people in the school districts and public services, name-calling and character bashing based on decisions made that the readers didn’t agree with. But, not surprisingly, when I go to the school board meetings or council meetings, quorum court meetings or court hearings and I look around, I don’t see the faces associated with those responses in the audience.
I think, as a society, we find it much easier to sit on our couches, in our pajamas, and insulting those who are working hard for our communities than it is to get out and find out what it takes to make a difference. The leaders in our schools and community work long, hard hours, well past the clock-out time, attend classes and meetings, have tight schedules and budgets to meet, and then are forced to meet the people who are not satisfied with their work, not in their office where they can
explain their decision face to face, but on a social media site where free speech reigns without the ability to defend themselves.
I was asked this week why I had to react so quickly to the events that unfolded last week, and I informed them that’s my job. The media game rules state that the first to get the story owns the story, everyone else is just covering what’s already been released. I’ve personally felt that as area news channels have gotten stories that I never had a chance on covering due to my tight schedule. And it hurts. I released what I had access to and developed the story from there. And I will continue to do so as long as my editor allows. Nothing happened personally between the school district or police department and myself. I consider them all friends and family and appreciate the hard work that I get to see first-hand as I am on the campus, regularly, with my kids, talking to administrators and teachers, and the departments as I fulfill responsibilities and work with them at my other capacity.
To the public who reads our newspaper and my personal posts on the Independent, thank you for your faithfulness. I hope to continue to provide you with up-to- date information as it is made available and to always completely research incidents that are imperative for you.
Melissa is a former reporter for the Independent and currently serves as a string writer. She wears many hats and enjoys spending time with family and serving her community in various capacities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook under Melissa Lore.