Saturday, August 11, 2012

‘Strikes’ aren’t just for baseball. News judgment affects spin on school story

It really isn’t a surprise that there’s a good chance later this year (say, in about a month or so) that we will get the sight of teachers in the Chicago Public Schools walking the picket lines.

Will we soon get teachers picketing here? Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

That was pretty much a given from the start of the negotiation process.

EVEN WHEN AN outside arbitrator this summer found that the teachers’ union had some legitimacy to their claim that they deserved some compensation for being asked to teach a longer school day and repayment for a past perk lost, in addition to a raise for the upcoming school year, that didn’t seem like enough to bring the two sides completely together.

So the fact that the two Chicago metro newspapers on Friday published stories that said the chances of a strike remain good? It’s not really news.

But what amused me was the difference in “spin” put on the story by the two newspapers. Although I’m sure some will argue that the proper word is “news judgment.”

Although it seems the big difference between the accounts published by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times is that the latter paper got to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Thursday.

FROM MY OWN occasional dealings with her, I know she will speak bluntly and say whatever she thinks – regardless of who or what her words will offend.

Which is why the Sun-Times gave us the story about “rattling the bargaining sabers” and how Lewis says there’s “no chance” of avoiding a strike sometime in September.

Her logic is that so many issues remain unsettled that it is highly unlikely that the Chicago Public Schools and the teachers’ union could come together on all of them before the first classes start for the 2012-13 school year.

Something is bound to keep the two sides apart, which would cause the first picket lines by Chicago teachers in decades (literally since the days when I first became a professional reporter-type person a quarter of a century ago).

SHE MAY BE right. Although it makes me wonder of Lewis and other top union officials are so eager for the fight that they’re looking for something to “go wrong” so they can justify the picket lines that will let them express the outrage they feel toward the Chicago Public Schools administration.

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel – whose hard-fisted attempts to take firm stance against the teachers union early on to score political points for himself have made teachers feel neglected and unwanted.

A picket line, particularly one in front of City Hall sometime next month would be the teachers’ equivalent of the foul-mouthed language that Emanuel has been known to use as part of his own blunt speech.

Emanuel versus Lewis. Who can be harder-headed? We’re going to find out in coming weeks!

BY COMPARISON, THE Chicago Tribune account comes off as so tepid, particularly when one considers the subject matter. It tells us how students in 243 public schools will begin classes, “at a time of transformation and uncertainty.”
The story that too many truly do care about

They give us teachers, administrators, union reps and spokespeople telling us how no one really wants a strike. Although they give us what seems to be the “drop dead” date of Sept. 4.

That is when officials are hoping a contract will be complete, because that’s the date on which other facilities in the Chicago Public School system start classes for this school year.

Will it also be the date of the first Chicago teachers’ strike since 1987 – the year that we wish the only “strikes” involved the Chicago Cubs games where Andre Dawson won that most valuable player award while playing for a last-place ballclub. It really has been that long since we’ve had a teachers’ strike.


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