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?