At a recent hearing of the Waterbury Select Board, one board member, near the end of the meeting asked his fellow board members to consider having a discussion with local media on a future agenda.
“One thing that I would like to consider for a future meeting is at least to have a discussion about the papers that represent our board meetings or write about our board meetings. Just, have a discussion about, you know some of the things that are being printed in the paper. Some of maybe the misunderstandings that are coming out of what's being printed in the paper which I think is making it a bit more difficult as a community to stay connected in a more friendly fashion, I guess. So, if we could put that on a future agenda just to have a general conversation about it, I’d appreciate it.”
That’s what board member Chris Viens asked his fellow board members to consider. But that’s not how it works. News organizations are not in the business of collaborating with elected officials to clean up their gaffes, sanitize their words, make them look better or change the actual intent of the words those officials use in carrying out their public duties.
Viens’ concern about how the public perceives the select board and the town comes after members of the public reacted to the words he used last fall to discuss community policing and having BIPOC officers respond to BIPOC police calls. At that time community members petitioned for him to step down. He stepped down as chair and this spring was elected vice chair, something the public also found concerning and said so at an April meeting.
The issue here is not what is being reported by The Valley Reporter, the Waterbury Roundabout and other media organizations. The issue is the words coming out of elected officials’ mouths.
The role of journalists is not to manage public relations for elected officials. Journalists need to accurately and fairly report what elected and appointed officials do and say and in so doing, shine the light of public scrutiny where it needs to be shone – on the reasoning and rational of those officials.
Peoples’ words provide insight into their thinking and should not be sanitized.