Editorial: Telling the difference between news stories and opinions

Comments regarding last week's 'Pleasanton Preps' column indicates some confusion among readers

The Weekly's "Pleasanton Preps" columnist, Dennis Miller, wrote last week about a situation in which a set of parents did an investigation of Amador Valley High School girls varsity basketball coach Al Chavira, which led to his being placed on leave. Other team parents felt the "dirt" dug up was benign and requested the coach's reinstatement.

Comments via email and on Town Square indicate significant confusion between a news story, editorial and a column.

News stories are the most basic form of journalism -- reporting that conveys the essence of an issue or event from as many perspectives as possible. A news story might contain the opinion of the sources through quotes, but it does not include the opinions of the writer.

Editorials reflect the consensus view of the paper's editorial board.

Columns are written by people paid to share information and opinions. The American Press Institute, in its news literacy curriculum for middle school students, describes a columnist as a "writer of a column that appears regularly. Columnists frequently offer opinions on current events."

Like most papers across the country, the Pleasanton Weekly has more than one column. All written by veteran journalists with decades in the industry, our columns include "Tim Talk" by Tim Hunt, "Around Pleasanton" by Jeb Bing and "Pleasanton Preps" by Dennis Miller.

Readers can differentiate between news stories, editorials and columns by presentation and writing style.

News stories have the byline of the reporter and will not reflect the opinion of the reporter. Editorials run on the Opinion page and are written from the perspective of a group, using words like "we" and "us."

Columns run regularly, and usually in the same location in the paper, have a title like "Around Pleasanton" or "Pleasanton Preps" and generally have a photo of the columnist and a "tagline" at the end of the column that contains information about the writer and how to contact them. Personal pronouns are used to indicate opinion.

Columns online can be presented as blogs or in a more general area of the website with the name of the column in the headline and the tagline information at the end. Editorials are sometimes presented this way online, identified with the word "Editorial" in the headline.

The commonality among news stories, editorials and columns is that we strive for truth and accuracy. Facts written in the "Pleasanton Preps" column last week were true, but the accuracy of one point was questionable.

Dennis referenced a private investigator's report, but we have not been able to obtain a copy of the alleged report and the family's written complaint cites only their personal research.

As a matter of transparency and journalistic ethics, we wanted to clarify that information as soon as possible and have posted an editor's note/clarification on the online version of last week's column that says:

"A previous version of this Pleasanton Preps column stated that a private investigator's report was sent to Amador Valley High School before girls basketball coach Al Chavira's suspension. The complaint filed with the school cited a family's own, personal research into the coach's background."

The parents in question have declined the opportunity to write a rebuttal, anonymously, for the Weekly. For his part, Chavira has not responded to our request for comment.

Speaking of ethics, no families were named in the "Pleasanton Preps" column to lessen any negative impacts on all girls on the team.

Speaking of children, the real injured parties in this mess are the Amador girls basketball players. Their season ended in turmoil amid an abrupt coaching change -- the removal of a second-year coach described as dedicated and well-liked by many team parents ... save at least two.

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62 people like this
Posted by Amador Parent
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 16, 2018 at 6:12 pm

News vs. opinion, private investigator vs. self research are irrelevant to the story.

The point of Dennis Miller's article (which most readers appeared to grasp) was that a single set of disgruntled parents were able to ruin an entire girls basketball season with the permission of the Pleasanton Unified School District Office. All other parents, players and coaches were ignored before taking blind action. This is the embarrassment that was rightfully called out by Dennis. Thank you for keeping this story in the forefront of the community's minds.

19 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 16, 2018 at 6:44 pm

Why was the Amador Varsity Girl's Basketball Coach position reposted to delete the criminal background check requirement and replaced by another job posting requirement that deleted this requirement. The replaced job posting was
Web Link and has the requirements:

Cover Letter
Three Letters of Recommendation

The original posting Web Link for the position required (that the PUSD deleted for the position and replaced with the above posting):

Coach Clearance
Fingerprint Clearance
TB Clearance
Safe Schools Online Training

So they swapped the job posting out for another one. Odd, huh?

The job postings say the start date was 8/1, August 1st, and was on the personnel books months before approval by the PUSD board. The PUSD hired this person with a Start Date of August 1st and after the person was employed for months, the school board was given in mid-November the permission to hire this employee in their packet, 3 1/2 months after he was on the payroll. Why was the PUSD board given the approval to hire a person 3 1/2 months after they were already hired rather than prior to the hire date of August 1?

Sounds like the district staff tried to pull the wool over the PUSD school board. And succeeded.

Also, why does the Pleasanton Weekly have a plethora of employees that either have worked for PUSD or have a wife that works at PUSD? It seems as though Dennis Miller's wife works at Foothill. At least that is what he says on his Facebook page - the one where he calls people a name starting with (removed) Then of course Tim Hunt and Jeb Bing both had wives that worked for the PUSD. It would make a lot of sense to keep so-called reporters that have wives that work or collect pensions from PUSD from doing opinion columns.

The Pleasanton Weekly would actually be a much better newspaper if it expanded its hiring pool to include others that didn't have a wife that works for the local school district or includes the former PUSD PIO. In the meanwhile, perhaps it could supplement its staff from volunteer kids that know how to use search engines that could help its newsrooms in doing real reporting. Kids in Brownies and Cub Scouts are always looking for service hours for badges and it looks as though the Pleasanton Weekly could use some real help.

5 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Mar 16, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Don't know all good questions the school should answer. None of which I'm sure had anything to do with these two (removed) parents motivation for going after the coach.

You can't absolve the parents behavior.

7 people like this
Posted by Calling BS on P.W. Here
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Mar 20, 2018 at 9:06 pm

Calling BS on P.W. Here is a registered user.

Three glaring problems with the above article:

1) "Readers can differentiate between news stories, editorials and columns by presentation and writing style."
False statement - In principle readers might do so, but obviously in practice some cannot.

2) "News stories have the byline of the reporter and will not reflect the opinion of the reporter."
False statement - much easier said than done; nowadays readers routinely see all manner of editorial content masquerading as "factual reporting" in every paper in the country, up to and including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

3) "Speaking of ethics, no families were named in the "Pleasanton Preps" column"
Except that by mentioning that the parents involved [removed].

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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