Ferndale Enterprise National Newspaper Association awards 2013

The Ferndale Enterprise was notified on July 19 that it had won two national awards for editorial writing. One editorial stressed the importance of freedom of the press, the other concerned bullying in the local school district. (Read more about the awards here.)

Here are the two winning editorials.

Assurance

May 17, 2012

In case you haven’t been reading the details, the now former vice president of the corporation that publishes the 134-year-old Enterprise, and who always has had a silent position in any matters involving the paper, has managed the fairgrounds for 21 years with seven three-year contracts. Recently, however, with some new and some old members on the self-perpetuating board, controversy has emerged.

130723_nna2013_200_96Now, with the proof from draft minutes from an executive committee meeting open to the public, it’s evident that the controversy is related to this newspaper and that some board members of your county fairgrounds are unwilling to accept the fact that the fair association is not a private club.

How sad. How sad that a few self-interested board members are willing to risk the future of the fair, by violating state law and attempting to silence the press, when so many of us are working so hard to shore up budget shortfalls caused by the elimination of all state funds and the continued decline of the horse-racing industry due to the weak economy.

Remember the “tea party” at the Humboldt County fairgrounds in March of 2006?

We’re not talking about the right wing patriot types. We’re talking about that infamous “tea party,” AKA orgy at the Red Barn.

The Eureka-based “Just Say Yes” group walked into the front office of the fairgrounds and booked the Red Barn for, what they said, would be a Saturday afternoon tea party . . . Earl Grey and McVities, right? Little did fairgrounds staff know that there would be a little spice thrown into the so-called afternoon gathering, formally titled “Wicked Interludes.”

When word quickly got around town that a sex party was held at the Red Barn, unbeknownst to fair management, we were confronted with the dilemma of reporting what went down at the fairgrounds, or ignoring it for the sake of not embarrassing the fairgrounds’ staff or the fair board. Despite our family’s bread being buttered by the primary bread winner in The Enterprise ownership — the long-time manager of the Humboldt County Fair — our lead story that week was the orgy. Fairgrounds General Manager Stuart Titus argued against us doing the story. We insisted and reminded him of his silent role as vice-president of the family-owned corporation that owns The Enterprise.

If we ignored the story, we told him, we might as well close up shop. The town was atwitter, before Twitter, over the sex party. How could we ignore it? You cannot deviate from your fairness as an editor, even if it comes at a personal cost or embarrassment. He agreed.

We have never been willing to compromise our journalistic integrity. And, even now, as the husband of this editor is threatened with his job unless fair board members are made to “look good” — even in the reporting of non-fair related issues — we will not compromise. Making one exception for one situation is a slippery slope that we are not willing to embark on. The very basis for an independent newspaper is that of truth, fairness and the unwillingness to be bought or censored by any entity, business, cause or personal conflict. We have been confronted with all the aforementioned and, despite great personal sacrifice that most of our readers are unaware of, we have never wavered in our commitment to bring you, our reader, “just the facts” in a forum open to all for debate or correction.

The Enterprise has long championed fair efforts, donating advertising, reporting on all events held at the fairgrounds and covering board meetings. We’ve written dozens of editorials advocating for the future of racing at the fair. We’ve even helped raise $100,000 to save the fair’s Cape Mendocino lens. In fact, just last month the fair board enthusiastically accepted our volunteer effort to revive the old fair ball to raise much-needed funds.

To threaten the long-time manager with his job if he doesn’t make fair board members “look good” in the newspaper that he has owned for more than 14 years but has had no say in during that tenure — case in point orgy reporting — is egregious. To protect directors who have other motives, such as our mayor, by attempting to silence the press, is an assault of the very basis of our democracy — the First Amendment.

It is uncomfortable for us — your editor/publisher and the fairgrounds manager, as husband and wife — to be in this situation. Perhaps the easiest remedy would be divorce. Try explaining that one to the children.

In the meantime, this we know for sure: Enterprise readers deserve the continued effort and track record of fair and accountable reporting and, despite the occasional isolation and uncomfortableness, assurance that we are beholden to no one except you, our reader.

The Humboldt County Fairgrounds belongs to all of us and it is more than worthy of all our efforts to keep it alive and thriving. We are fully aware of the fact that fair managers will come and go (although there have only been four in its 116 years). But we can assure you that the publisher/editor of your award-winning hometown newspaper and the manager of the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, will continue to give both endeavours their full effort, attention and passion.

Come what may.

Whose child is this?

Dec. 20, 2012

It is a truly joyous time of the year in Ferndale.

The town’s Christmas tree at the end of our bucolic Main Street stands as a testament to our community — lovingly, proudly and breathtakingly ornamented by our treasured volunteer firemen.

Our tractors were out in force Sunday at the 20th annual lighted tractor parade, despite the city hall drama of our own “Tractorgate.” (See last week’s edition.) And the trees in front of our many locally owned businesses are adorned with the handiwork of the town’s children, curated with much help from our dedicated teachers.

Those children, however, have been let down this week. Collectively, we should hang our heads in shame.

On the heels of an emotional week for the nation (it’s only been a week tomorrow morning?), Ferndale has failed a child, and one child is one too many. In our community, where our children are celebrated, we have lost our way, misplaced our priorities, and now desperately need to readjust.

Here’s the short version.

A mother has concerns over the way her son is allegedly treated by several football coaches. She brings those concerns to the school’s administration. Not satisfied with the administration’s response, she follows the district’s specified complaint procedure and officially files a complaint with the school board.

The district responds by legally notifying those named in the complaint and announces the hiring of an outside investigator.

Because Ferndale is a small town, rumors spread rapidly about the complaint, the filer and the student involved. Forget Poppa Joe’s or the Palace. Ferndale’s Facebook brigade is on fire.

Assumptions are made, with threats and harassment not far behind. How dare a parent from across the bridge challenge the institution that this community so identifies with? While we may need interdistrict transfers to keep our high school alive, vital and open, what we don’t need is whiners and complainers to offset what some of us hold so dear — our win-at-all-costs football tradition. Man up or get lost.

The troops rally and organize via social media.

When they learn of a special board meeting where what is supposed to be a confidential complaint will be discussed behind closed doors, they encourage all supporters of the coaches and the football program to show up.

They even manage for students — peers of the young player whose parent filed a complaint — to pull out of locked storage team jerseys to wear during the school day and to the evening meeting.

With dozens packing the Ferndale High’s Mabel Lowry Library Monday night, mob mentality was allowed to rule. Our district’s recent anti-bullying rhetoric flew out the window.

All the while, mind you, the child at the center of the complaint is aware and watching the adults’ and his teammates’ actions.

To make matters worse, the school board and its attorney attempt to stop the public from weighing in on the controversy — citing the district’s legal responsibility to protect complaint filers from harassment and retaliation — but fails miserably at doing so. At one point, incredibly, the district’s attorney was seen applauding after one student athlete’s testament and defense of his beloved, do-no-wrong coaches.

How can we as a community remove our Wildcat hats at the beginning of the board meeting Monday night and fall silent for a minute to pay tribute to the children who lost their lives in Newtown and then, as soon as the hats go back on, dismiss the child at the center of this debacle?

Let’s remember that during this fall’s fumble of a complaint against the administration over the release of the girls’ soccer coach, the complainants — including the almost entire girls’ soccer team — were admonished by the board for having the nerve to file the complaint. In a letter to the complainants, the board said that those who followed the district complaint procedure were harassing and bullying a student athlete.

In yet another, separate letter to a parent who filed a complaint with the board against the superintendent, trustees in May said “there appears to be a pervasive culture of bullying and the perpetuating of rumors within our schools. Nothing can be more damaging to the sense of security and comfort a student is entitled to experience while attending school. These types of behaviors are not acceptable.”

Except, that is, when football coaches need defending. Disgusting.

Our message this week is simple and is directed to the lone student athlete whose mother had the courage to speak up and play by the rules, unlike those who support mob rule.

Whether the allegations made by the mother are true or false is irrelevant. What is relevant is that rules apply to all and that we all respect the process established by the district.

To the young man — the child — at the center of this issue, we extend our apologies and our respect and offer a hopeful promise that we, collectively, will do better.

Blessed is the child.