Publicizing the names of people who are being laid off is not news and not good journalism

UPDATE:  Jennifer Moody of the DH has a  blog post on this here.  I would suggest taking the discussion over to her place.

It has been brought to my attention that the Albany Democrat-Herald ran a story (no link, sorry) in which they named the employees who are being laid off from the Lebanon Community School District.  Further, I’ve been told that the Lebanon Express will probably do the same thing in tomorrow’s edition – and my understanding is that neither paper asked the people involved if they were OK being named.

I’m going to say something about the news coverage of the LCSD in both papers I don’t normally say:  This is wrong. There is no value added to the story by naming the people.  Name the overall number?  Sure.  Name the breakdown by rank/type?  Sure.  Name the overall numbers at each school?  Sure.  Hell, you could even name the positions at each school and still guarantee some degree of anonymity.  But actually printing the names of the people laid off?  That’s not news under any reasonable definition.  There’s no point in doing so – and frankly, the question here is not “why not,”  but “why?”  What journalistic purpose is served by naming names?  (It’s not like the people who are getting laid off did anything to put themselves in the public eye, after all, unlike the various people who have been involved in school district politics in the last few years.)

Additionally, as was pointed out to me, this is coming so quickly on the heels of the employees being informed that some may not have had time to sit down and talk to their spouses, kids relatives and friends yet, which means some may be finding out from the newspaper.  Hey, reporters, put yourself in their shoes:  How would you like your families to find out you are losing your jobs from the newspaper?  I thought so.

Shame on the DH and LE for running the names.  At the least, both should apologize and stop this practice.  There is no journalistic value here, and especially none that counteracts the fact that this is a lot like kicking someone when they are down.

UPDATE 8:40 AM 5/13/09:  I’ve been thinking about this a bit more, and there are a few additional points I wanted to make:

1.  There is a decent argument to be made in favor of not keeping the names secret within the district in the name of rumor control.  I very well can’t argue against transparency and openness, can I?  However, I don’t see how this extends to involuntary publication in a community-wide newspaper, especially when it’s the exception rather than the rule (or, at least, it is only the rule for public employees, and even then only because that information becomes public).  I’m not sure it even extends to an all-district-employee email, though I can see the rationale behind that.  Perhaps each school’s staff could have been informed of the people it was losing?

2.  The Warrior Spirit’s case might be a bit different.   I still don’t like the idea of publishing the names without permission, but one could make the argument that the WS’s audience is directly affected by the LHS layoffs, and thus it is news for them.  (Note that this does not hold true for the LE and DH, whose readership doesn’t need to know exactly who got laid off, just the overall numbers and types of positions.)  Come to think of it, it’s definitely news for the students who like the teachers who are being let go and/or planned on taking classes from them next year.  So for the WS, I think just calling the teachers whose names they want to publish and asking them (perhaps making the point that students really want to know) is a decent way to go.  Heck, maybe interviewing, even briefly, the teachers who won’t be around about their experience at LHS might be an interesting idea.

3.  What’s the situation with band at the high school next year?  I thought I saw the band teacher’s name on the layoff list.  Someone please tell me they did not cut band….

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8 Comments on “Publicizing the names of people who are being laid off is not news and not good journalism”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    And I don’t think it should have been sent out in a mass email to district employees either.

  2. In the interest of accuracy Says:

    Dennis,

    I don’t believe this information was sent out in ‘a mass email to district employees…’ Unless, of course, I have been cut and not informed and thus eliminated from the email go round 🙂
    My understanding is that Music was cut at lower levels within the district and that only 7 Oaks Middle School and LHS will have music next year, and that the Band teacher at LHS is on lay off due to being bumped by a more senior music teacher.

  3. anonymous Says:

    I would like it if people had the option to be named, or not, before going into the paper. Maybe because these are public employees and therefore it is public information it was considered fair material?
    However, in that same vein do the papers name employees when they are hired or leave on their own?
    Maybe the papers are looking to point out to the public how the economy is affecting the schools and gain sympathy for the situation?
    Or maybe looking for a way to keep those staff people from being laid off?
    (Not sure what that could be short of private grants or donations…)
    I think it is important to let people know where the cuts are occurring (positions/functions) and how many are teachers, assistants, various services staff, administrators.
    It should be noted too how many changes have occurred since last June.
    This is not the first round of cuts.
    Many positions have not been refilled when they have gone empty for whatever reason.

  4. anonymous Says:

    I would like to see the facts on what the percentages are for the cuts, and have them broken down very precisely.
    That is something the papers could do to really put some more depth into the story.
    example—

    Teachers:
    Current number:___ number cut:___ percent cut:___

    Assistants: (ditto)

    Administrators: (ditto)

    etc. for all the various positions and levels within the District.

  5. Dennis Says:

    Anon @ 12:43, can I ask why you want to know that?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Ok- that is my error- It was not sent district wide, but it was sent out to at least one building. And actually there was more information about moves which were not included in the paper.

  7. Ben Says:

    The band programs were cut at all levels besides LHS and Seven Oak… I suppose since the names have been published anyway it’s not improper to talk about it? I apologize in advance if it is.

    The band teacher at Seven Oak has been in the district for one year longer than the LHS teacher, so she got moved to LHS, bumping the current teacher. The band teacher that’s been in the district many years from Hamilton Creek/Pioneer (since their programs were cut) will then move to Seven Oak.

    On a side note, I was a bit surprised myself to see names, especially after they had already gone over cut positions, which seemed to suffice.


  8. […] Dennis objected to the news story published online late Monday that named the 32 people being laid off from their jobs with the Lebanon Community School District. I received the names in a packet given out at a meeting Monday of the Lebanon School Board. Specifically, here’s an excerpt from his post: […]


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