Sometime last year, I approached Dan Carson to see what role he might like to take in helping the Vanguard. After some discussion, he chose not to be an editorial board member, but agreed to do an occasional column – sometimes on city finances and other times with him acting as a de facto public editor, as well as reviewing the practices of the Vanguard.
As we push for transparency, the Vanguard needs to be open to criticism. Mr. Carson emailed me in advance, met with me on Tuesday, explained his position and concerns about the November 23, 2014, “Sunday Commentary: Is Soccer Incident an Embodiment of a Larger Problem?” article, and asked questions.
What became clear in our discussion was that his concerns about the soccer article fall into a category that we had not previously contemplated. While Mr. Carson is ostensibly acting in a role of de facto public editor, in this instance he is not a neutral party. He is the parent of one of the players on the team. While that does not mitigate the value/validity of his commentary, in my mind at least, it shifts it to a role of “the other side of the story.”
As one of our readers pointed out, the Vanguard in part exists to hold a mirror up to society – in this case, Davis – and ask it to reflect upon what it sees. When Mr. Carson cites our comment policy and attempts to use it to criticize our editorial, it conflates two separate issues. In the course of community comments and discussion, we have found that “pejorative references to any general class of people” are inflammatory … often by design.
My aim in my commentary was to reflect upon Davis society. And here I think my criticism of Davis school culture is well-grounded – I cited my on-the-record conversation with Dennis Foster from the spring and what he shared about his belief that Davis is very unique in allowing a culture where parents can/will take on-the-field disputes up the chain of command, often to the superintendent and/or school board members.
Mr. Foster’s observation appears to run more deeply, specifically in the areas of classroom disputes over grades and other policies, which are notorious in this community.
I cited another example of a school board candidate talking about chants, which apparently were relayed from a teacher to that candidate and apparently it wasn’t a gas pumping reference but a comment that “you’ll be working for us someday.”
I was painting a very broad, but general, picture here, and the key point I was trying to make was not to put this incident entirely on the students. I wrote, “We can teach our students to act properly and use this as an educational moment. But we need to go further than just our student-athletes, we need to take it to the student population itself, the parents, and the community at large.”
In discussing that concept with Dan Carson, he described how his son reacted to reading the piece, and he took it very personally. It was not intended to be personalized by the individual players, but rather be a flag to raise to the community about changing our collective culture.
Will some disagree with this conclusion? Clearly so. But that is the point of an editorial.
I concluded the piece with, “Until we can have an honest dialogue in this community, I see these incidents happening more frequently rather than less frequently.”
I still think we haven’t had that. People got too caught up in the notion of punishment and not enough into the notion of self-reflection.
Prior to publication, this piece was submitted both to Dan Carson and the Vanguard Editorial Board. Mr. Carson’s feeling was that no one here is a neutral party as the Vanguard criticized the entire community. He also felt I should respond to his belief that we should speak in advance with all parties before writing a piece critical of them.
After some discussion, the editorial board and I arrived at a few thoughts on this. First, I still believe that, while the soccer players were subject matter in the initial article, they were not directly the targets of the piece – rather the incident was used more generally to reflect on our community. Second, there is a fundamental difference in writing a news story, where we would absolutely want to talk to all parties, and writing a commentary. But third, it was pointed out that one of the strengths of the Vanguard is that we don’t have to get the whole story in one fell swoop.
In this case, we had the initial article and then a response piece. The interaction here and discussion that ensued has produced a rich dialogue that has allowed all sides to weigh in and inspired a dialogue on a number of different lines.
So, in the end, I respectfully disagree with Dan Carson. Still, I appreciate the feedback he provided and I encourage others to do the same when they feel like either the Vanguard or myself has gotten things wrong. I can see how things that I had not intended to convey were read into my piece and this reflection will make the next piece better.
—David M. Greenwald reporting