By Harry Welty
Published May 3, 2002
sell the great temple of Duluth, the school administration building! ARE YOU
PAYING ATTENTION? We really, really, really mean it!
The News Tribune must mean it. Really. Really. Really. Over the past two
months they have written virtually the same editorial three times forbidding the
Duluth School Board from selling our trophy headquarters, "Old
The first editorial in February swaggered a bit, fairly ridiculing Garry Krause
for suggesting that we unload the building. You'd never have guessed from their
editorial that private owners would be just as obligated to maintain the
historic site as we currently are. When it was suggested that the Trib was
putting bricks and mortar ahead of our mission to educate children the Trib
softened its position a little. Its second editorial pointed out that the CAB
was also an educational facility. Their third editorial last weekend said much
the same thing but with a hint of desperation as though the school board might
not be moved by its entreaties. It's rare, perhaps unprecedented, for any single
subject to receive so much editorial attention.
Most politicians would rather light a cigarette next to a natural gas leak than
get into a peeing contest with the local paper. I don't mean that newspapers are
like skunks. They are much more like Niagara Falls with a seemingly
inexhaustible supply of pee, or ink if you'd prefer. They have professional
writers/reporters. They assign and edit stories. They write editorials. They
choose what to publish and can release letters-to-the-editor when it suits them
to generate public interest. And a newspaper always gets the last word.
Despite this power I'm comfortable with the press and its prerogatives. I've
gotten along well with all six or seven education reporters who have covered the
School Board for the Trib. I've also gotten along with the editors. Jim
Heffernan has saved me from myself a couple times when I've sent intemperate
letters-to-the-editor his way. The Editorial Board has interviewed me a half
dozen times when I've run for office. Three times I've won their endorsement.
Five times I haven't.
The editors have a tall responsibility. They must know everything about
everything. It's an impossible task and they sometimes find themselves having to
cover stories dug up by the alternative press that they would prefer to ignore
for fear of losing subscribers or advertisers. And not covering these stories
might cost them something even more dear - their self respect. Its not
surprising then that the Trib gets especially testy whenever local tabloids or
television reporters scoop them.
A year ago when the Trib's editors decided that Julio Almanza, the Duluth School
Superintendent, was limiting their access to public information concerning the
public schools I innocently got a Trib reporter into big trouble. When a
television reporter, KDLH's Chad Thomas, interviewed me I mentioned a memo that
Julio had sent out to the Board. It seemed harmless enough to me so I didn't
mind passing it along. Besides, I agree with the Trib that anything we
touch is public information unless it deals with personnel records, litigation
or contract negotiations. Evidently the Trib's editors thought the molehill I'd
given Chad was a mountain because there was hell to pay.
Usually the Tribune's major morning headlines become the stories covered on
television in the evening. On this occasion the Trib found itself doing the
follow-up. The Trib's Education reporters were raked over the coals and told
that if local television ever scooped the Trib again they'd be history. For the
next couple of weeks the Trib's reporters stuck to the Superintendent like
lamprey on a whitefish. Both reporters quit shortly afterwards.
Can the Board weather the current peeing contest over Old Central? School
board members certainly understand that if they cross the Trib there could be
unpleasant repercussions, an unflattering story perhaps or a lost endorsement.
Three editorials is a strong message but so far the Trib's crusade has elicited
only six or seven letters-to-the-editor mostly from long lost Duluthians who
seem to think we're about to tear Old Central down. I've received ten times more
correspondence from parents and students - our actual customers - begging us not
to cut course offerings. None of our customers has mentioned the CAB to me.
If I have to get into a peeing contest with Niagara Falls I know exactly what to
wear. I just hope I look good in a barrel.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at:
My apologies to Dennis for reporting a few columns back that the Independence
Party didn't hold a precinct caucus in Duluth. Apparently they did meet. I was
just reporting what I'd read in the Trib. If you'd like to straighten me
out send an Email to: email@example.com