Marital affair? Take special care

By · Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

not teaching,
still THINKING …

Transparency. Journalists strive for it. The audience craves it. We all need it.

Residents called for it recently at a school board meeting about an issue that has been in the news: “West Genesee residents ‘outraged, embarrassed’; want transparency over superintendent”

What’s the story?

These lead paragraphs from that story, published Jan. 16 on syracuse.com explain:

CAMILLUS, NY – More than 100 residents jammed the West Genesee Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, many saying they want the board to be more transparent with the community about an investigation into Superintendent Chris Brown.


The school board’s lawyers are investigating allegations made on social media that Brown was in a relationship with an employee he supervises. Brown’s wife, Rachel Gough Brown, posted on social media in early January that Chris Brown told her he wanted a divorce and that he was in love with the female employee. She later took the social media posts down.

The superintendent, who took personal time off, told syracuse.com that he “did not have a romantic or sexual relationship with any employee in the district. He has said the woman was a good friend who he confided in. He has said he and his wife are divorcing.”

News continued to break.

This story involves multiple layers, including: ethics, public vs private figures, social media, what/how/when to report details, welfare of students, and consideration of stakeholders — residents, faculty, staff and students.

By its nature — and human nature — it’s a story that drew a lot of interest and a lot of questions. Some were addressed in the Jan. 16 story about the residents.

One parent asked at the board meeting: “Where is the communication?”

Another speaker at the meeting said teachers are fearful to speak out.

One resident summed up what ultimately will define this story: “The trust is broken, and that doesn’t get fixed.”

At the time it was announced that the superintendent was leaving, the story included an outstanding question: Did the district’s law firm finish its investigation and, if so, what did it find?

The teachers association statement focused on hope for the future.

For journalists, the future will always hold stories with multiple layers and the need for a principled approach to covering them.

Here’s a gentle reminder about the basics, which journalists surely followed in the reporting of the West Genesee story:

Lastly, as an aside, any journalist wants to cover the news, not be a part of the story. So while covering the personal and professional lives of others, remember that your own actions — personal and professional — have consequences for you, your careers and your colleagues.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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