1998 Batten Symposium Panel Presentation:
Framing the Story in New Ways
"The Children's Hour"
Mizell Stewart III
Akron Beacon Journal
In May 1996, we published a four-part series titled "Shortchanging Ohio's Children," which found that state lawmakers had, over a period of decades, siphoned away money that was to go to public schools for other purposes.
It was a classic investigative project and it was framed on the basis of a two-way conflict. . . It was lawmakers vs. children. Essentially the narrative of the whole story was that the state legislature systematically screwed the children of Ohio.
But in 'The Children's Hour,' we expanded that framing to encompass everyone we considered to be the stakeholders of public education . . we included parents, taxpayers, educators, employers.
Framing the story in terms of stakeholders -- rather than the classic protagonist vs. antagonist method -- was actually a nod to the reality of politics. While we went down the road of fixing blame on state government for the sorry state of school funding and pounding on politicians to do the right thing, it falls on deaf ears unless there's some kind of consensus on what the right thing actually is.
With that in mind, we started gathering some information, using polling, focus groups and plain old shoe leather. But instead of using conflict as the starting point, we began with what the various stakeholders actually agreed upon. But getting from the framing process to getting stories in the paper wasn't easy.
We were in one of those pitched battles over how we were going after these stakeholder stories when an argument between myself and the reporters really gave the series its power.
The reporters didn't back down on exposing the conflict that is. But it was a different kind of conflict. It wasn't one side vs. the other, but the conflict between what people say and what people do.
In the heat of our little argument, [one of the reporters] cut to the chase. He told me, business people are saying they need better-trained workers and that public schools aren't doing the job. Then they turn around and ask for millions of dollars in tax breaks that negatively impact schools. That's the truth, shouldn't we say so?
In the end, our eight-part series was put together not so much as a battle between opposing forces, but an issue that deserves solution.
. . . The legislative gridlock broke about three weeks after the series was published.
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