[UPDATED] Milwaukee school board wants a new Journal Sentinel reporter on the education beat


I called Milwaukee schools spokesman Tony Tagliavia to see why the board wants the Journal Sentinel’s Erin Richards taken off the education beat. He had colleague Denise Callaway forward a letter that school board president Michael Bonds addressed to Journal Sentinel editor Martin Kaiser earlier this month. In it, Bonds wrote:

My concerns fall into four basic areas of concern, virtually all of which involve Ms. Richards: factual errors, failure to fairly report or assess data/information, failure to cover critical meetings and events, and typographical errors. I have outlined examples of those concerns in this letter, but can provide the exact documentation upon request. For the sake of not being repetitive, these situations involve Ms. Richards, unless otherwise noted.

Bonds added in his Oct. 1 letter that “it is my opinion we have reached a critical point and I am asking you to assign someone other than Ms. Richards to the education beat.”

Erin Richards

Erin Richards

It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen though. Kaiser told me on Wednesday “the MPS agenda is stupid and a lie.”

Richards had not seen the letter until this morning when I sent her this link. “A heads-up [by Bonds] as a courtesy would have been nice,” she says in an email. Kaiser didn’t see it, either. “I have never been contacted by anyone at MPS asking that Erin Richards be removed from covering MPS,” he says.

Richards says “most of the concerns raised [in the letter] are very minor, given the quantity of stories I write – and their complexity.”

And the issue about not attending meetings? Of course I don’t go to every MPS committee and whole board meeting anymore. I have to do this job during the day as well, and with only one person on the beat, that means increasingly I have to advance agenda items before they happen, or follow-up on stories after votes have been taken.

The letter also neglects to note that all MPS board meetings are broadcast on local 88.9 FM. So I spend much of my free time on Tuesdays and Thursdays listening to the board meetings. That way, I can keep up with discussions that suddenly turn interesting, while still having a bit of a life. Or at least cooking dinner.

I asked Urban Milwaukee editor and former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Bruce Murphy what he thought of Richards’ work. “I think she’s a solid reporter,” he writes, “and I haven’t seen any signs of obvious bias. But it’s worth noting that Richards operates in a different environment than the Journal Sentinel of old. The paper is less beat-oriented these days and more enterprise oriented. That seems to result in less day-to-day coverage of MPS than the paper used to do.”

Will Richards be at tonight’s meeting?

“I will not,” she says. “After reviewing the items slated for action, I don’t see anything that’s immediately newsworthy. Bonds’ report to the board is an informational item, so it’s not like the board will be voting on my job performance.”

* Read the Milwaukee school board president’s letter to Martin Kaiser
* Board president’s activities include trying to get reporter taken off MPS beat

Update: Read comments from my Facebook friends and subscribers (facebook.com)

Update 2: “Both a serious matter and something to laugh at” (edweek.com)

Update 3: No way the Journal Sentinel will replace Richards now (urbanmilwaukee.com)

Update 4: Schools spokesman Tony Tagliavia emails on Friday afternoon:

Because I believe a question was raised about the Journal Sentinel receiving the letter from President Bonds you referenced, we double-checked. Our records confirm Ms. Callaway sent an email on President Bonds’ behalf with the letter attached on October 2 and it was received by the Journal Sentinel server (see below).

02 Oct 2014 15:34:16 (GMT -05:00) (DCID 4129429) Delivery details: Message 49005896 sent to mkaiser@journalsentinel.com
02 Oct 2014 15:34:16 (GMT -05:00) Message 49005896 to mkaiser@journalsentinel.com received remote SMTP response ‘Thanks’.