Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The good, the bad, and the Corbett

Did a heartfelt newspaper column cause Corbett to free up money for the Philadelphia schools?

The good, the bad, and the Corbett


I try not to blog about "journalism" every day -- that would be the quickest way to put the last nail in the coffin of the blog. But since there's a lot of concern about the future of journalism specifically right here in the City of Brotherly Love these days. I thought I'd point out an example here in Philadelphia of how good journalism -- and bad journalism -- can make a difference in a very important issue.

I was on the train into work yesterday when my smartphone started buzzing -- Gov. Corbett has abruptly and unexpectedly freed up $45 million to hire back teachers and staffers in the embattled Philadelphia school district, money that he'd seemed to be holding over the head of unionized teachers to force concessions. The first reports implied that, inexplicably, there was no quid pro quo, either. It was a rare piece of good news -- maybe not whoo-hoo, celebrate-good-times-c'mon kind of news, but good news -- for Philadelphia's kids; the money will hire back 400 teachers, counselors, assistant principals, secretaries, and others.

But I didn't write about this yesterday, and here's why: A story (no link) published by a veteran journalist on a newish website that came out a few minutes after Corbett's announcement implied that the whole thing actually was just a power play, that schools Superintendent William Hite had quietly implemented a major labor move, certain to infuriate teachers and inflame the crisis. It took me all day to figure out that the story was almost certainly overhyped -- the change was not nearly as major as the piece implied, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers didn't even seem hugely bent out of shape about it. The news really was simply what it seemed to be: that Corbett had released the money.

And here's the interesting piece of the puzzle -- I believe that some really good local journalism had something to do with this. Yesterday morning, readers of the Daily News were greeted with a picture of the late Laporshia Massey (at top) -- the 12-year-old girl who died after an asthma attack that started in a school without a nurse that day -- and the chilling words "Who's Next?" It was promoting a really moving and heartfelt column by my colleague Ronnie Polaneczky, a mother-to-mother plea to Pa. First Lady Susan Corbett to convince her husband to restore the $45 million before more children are hurt. It should be noted that her column was built on some fine work by some other journalists including Daniel Denvir of the City Paper, who broke the Massey story.

Hours later, Corbett released the money. I've been told that not only did the governor shock a news conference with the announcement, he also spoke at length about the death of Laporshia Massey -- expressing his remorse even though he did suggest her death had nothing to do with his decision, I'm not sure about that. I have a powerful suspicion that Ronnie's column may have been the tipping point.

For Corbett, good on him -- but this is the first step in a journey of 1,000 miles. Finding a way to restore the school nursing cuts of 2011 -- which the $45 million does not do -- is an imperative, and freeing up some cash that was already in the state's wallet is nothing like the free and equitable funding system that Philadelphia's children are entitled to.

For the future of Philadelphia journalism, all I can say is this: Maybe now you understand why we fight.

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About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.


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