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Newspaper seeks direct delivery via students in return for positive school stories

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, December 17th, 2010 at 8:07 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

*AMENDED POST* 

By Theresa Harrington

I posted an item about a proposal by the Concordian newspaper to the Mt. Diablo school district Thursday evening that contained an error regarding proposed compensation for the district. Based on trustees’ discussion of the proposal at the Dec. 14 school board meeting, I was unaware that the proposal would include sharing advertising revenue with the district.

*Second update: Also based on the school board discussion, I was not aware that the Concordian proposed to send its newspapers home only to elementary school students.

To correct both of these errors, I am updating the post below:

The Concordian newspaper has approached the Mt. Diablo school district with a proposition that would give the newspaper prime access to the parents of nearly 16,000 elemenatry school students, equaling more than $450,000 in subscriptions.

The newspaper would promise to print at least one positive story in each monthly issue about a district school or program. In return for this “good” press, the district would send the newspaper home with students, bypassing the need for the Concordian to collect $30 per household in subscription costs.

The Concordian would share a portion of its advertising revenues with the district. Presumably, the paper could use this newfound access to students’ parents as a selling point to advertisers, claiming a giant boost in circulation.

But advertising is proving to be a sticking point for the district, which has policies restricting the distribution of commercial materials to students. The school board discussed the Concordian’s proposal Tuesday, after Superintendent Steven Lawrence brought it up along with advertising policies related to flyers and banners.

“The Concordian is willing to put in articles about good things going on in our schools if we would be willing to send them home with our children,” Lawrence said. “It wasn’t something we were comfortable approving and moving forward with, because we wouldn’t be able to approve what advertising goes into the newspaper.”

Trustee Linda Mayo said she was primarily concerned about elementary students hand-carrying flyers or other materials home.

“I don’t have as much of a concern if it’s mailed to parents,” Mayo said. “But I do have a concern if it’s put into the hands of students.”

Some foundations — such as those supporting sports and music — seek sponsors to help support their events and programs. Sponsors may be more willing to fund programs if they could be assured their names would be prominently displayed in print materials distributed to parents, Lawrence said.

Mayo pointed out that the district prohibits advertising related to alcohol or tobacco. Board president Gary Eberhart said Lawrence should refuse to disseminate newspapers or flyers that include ads for liquor or tobacco.

Lawrence said the district could inform the Concordian and groups wishing to distribute flyers about the district’s policy, with the understanding they may be able to get distribution to students’ homes if they complied. But he pointed out that restaurants that advertise often serve alcohol.

Mayo said district approval should be based on how information is presented. Eberhart asked Lawrence to bring samples of the newspaper and other flyers back to the board for further consideration.

Interestingly, trustees didn’t discuss the editorial content of the Concordian at all.

“They would control what goes into the paper,” Eberhart said. “And we would approve whether it would be allowed to be sent home.”

It was unclear whether district officials would refuse to send home papers if they didn’t like the editorial content. It was also unclear whether the Concordian would be willing to print stories that might reflect unfavorably on the district, under the proposed agreement.

The Concordian touts itself as “a direct response publication serving Concord, Clayton, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Martinez and Pleasant Hill.” It tells prospective advertisers that it reaches “thousands of readers and viewers who CHOOSE to read us!”

The publication contains many local ads, including some for establishments that serve alcohol, such as Vinnie’s Bar and Grill in Concord. It also regularly features stories about local schools and education programs.

The current issue includes articles about a De La Salle and Carondelet High School theater production and a Diablo Regional Youth Orchestra performance. Would such schools and organizations also be required to distribute the newspapers free through students to be included in future issues? Or, might the Concordian decide to censor stories about districts or schools that don’t agree to distribute it free through students, if the Mt. Diablo district sets a precedent by agreeing to its proposal?

There are, of course, other ways for the public to find out about good things going on in schools. The Times and its weekly papers (The Concord Transcript, Pleasant Hill/Martinez Record, Walnut Creek Journal and Lamorinda Sun) regularly feature stories, photos, news briefs, columns and datebook items related to school programs and events.

In addition, the superintendent has pledged to regularly update the community about what’s going on in the district through his “Message from the Superintendent” e-mails, which local bloggers often post verbatim. Lawrence also highlights good things going on in schools during his “Superintendent’s Report” at board meetings.

This blog, the MDUSD Parents Blog, the Mt. Diablo Community Advisory Committee blog and the Mt. Diablo blog operated by Eberhart also frequently update the public about district news, along with other local blogs. In addition, schools promote their activities through newsletters and websites, as well as through automated phone calls to parents. 

Do you think the district needs positive stories in the Concordian enough to agree to distribute its newspapers through students?

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  • Carissa

    I’m confused–did I not understand correctly that this would be a way to help raise money for the MDUSD? A portion of advertising revenue would go directly to the MDUSD? Why did you not mention this in your write-up?

  • tharrington

    During the board meeting, the possibility of sharing advertising revenue was not discussed. I have amended the blog post to include that.
    I have requested a copy of the proposal from the district.

  • Sean

    Your article seemed to be fair and unbiased to me….until you mentioned how people can get their news from Times sources. You’d make Hearst proud with accusing others of making a play for market share and then doing it in your own article. Well played.

  • Judi

    Lets not forget the wonderful community newspaper in Pleasant Hill and Martinez, the Community Focus. They also print positive articles relating to education, school athletics and young people making a positive difference in the community. They certainly support our local schools and organizations. They are a great example of what a community newspaper should do!

  • The Gov

    Ideally, articles would be neither positive nor negative, just news but we have to be realistic here. Kids are already bombarded with advertisements – do they need more. No thanks. How much money are we talking about here? Can we trim in other areas?

    I think Theresa listed a number of sources to get news, with her own mixed in, does not seem biased to me.

    And what would the benefit of positive stories in the Concordian be for MDUSD? If there is a truly great story out there I would think it could get picked up elsewhere.

    If I’m ever the recipient of ads they will go straight to the trash.

  • MDUSD Mom

    The last MDUSD (Superintendent) Newsletter was Nov. 5, which was more than 2 weeks, more than a month ago… Happy holidays!

  • Doctor J

    If MDUSD enters the slippery slope of becoming business partners with the big “C” — teachers becoming newspaper delivery “boys”, controlling the editorial content of a newspaper and revenue sharing –it will have no problem with commercially branding its schools, a la “AT&T Park” in exchange for cash money. The “Chevron Dent Center”, the “Safeway Mt. Diablo Elementary School”, the “Home Depot Riverview Middle School”, and “Walgreens Concord High School”. In fact, revenue sharing with the big “C” might even cost the district its non-profit status. The Supt and Board are just upset that the Times has uncovered truth and printed it.

  • tharrington

    Actually, elementary students would be the delivery boys and girls, handing the newspaper to their parents, along with their schoolwork.
    The district would control the content, which would essentially strip the newspaper of its ability to report independently on school issues.
    Here’s a link to my more recent post about the plan: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2010/12/17/more-information-about-the-concordian-plan/