In the week in which a court investigating illegal hacking heard about the depths some newspapers plumbed to unearth celebrity trivia, this week we’re looking at what we, in the responsible Press, are not publishing.
The following tale is a cautionary one for anyone using email to communicate, and a reflection on successive governments’ policies.
It’s also quite funny.
But it’s a sad sign of how important “spinning” a story has become. We mentioned the other week that some organisations now get annoyed with us for not following their carefully prepared spin. The following shows the lengths people will go to.
We’re keeping the names a secret — though they’ll know who they are — and only say that they are involved in education somewhere in our circulation area. We call everyone “he” but that’s for simplicity’s sake.
The drama unfolded at the end of a routine Press release, when we noticed that we’d been sent the email conversation behind its creation.
What piqued our interest was a comment about “needing to keep [the boss] away from this so that he can claim he had nothing to do with it if it comes to it”.
Gosh! It’s like Harrison Ford being given the nod from an underling of the US president. They call it deniability in the movies.
“I know that is what he wants,” added a mysterious Mr Big.
We just had to read on.
It’s clear that those in the conversation think they can present a Press release that will fool our reporters.
“I have tried to place it [the main point] among the text to “persuade” them [that’s us, the Chronicle] to use it, as it’s quite powerful,” writes one.
“If we put it in the first paragraph the Chronicle may also lift their headline from these words.”
(Yes, journalists are that predictable).
The difficulty in pushing one school at the expense of others is clear.
“I’m treading a tightrope here and need some input,” complained one person, though that input can be less than helpful: “point out that we are brilliant and aspirational,” was one comment.
It’s clear that they know rival schools are doing just the same thing, noting that one school will “definitely make this claim and be believed” and that “they will spin and present their version”.
They also want to make the spin for their own school easy to understand, so “that even the less intelligent can see it,” as they put it.
All this is amusing, if revealing, but there are number of conclusions to draw from it.
1. If you’re helping a school with its PR, lesson one should be “don’t send incriminating emails out to the Press”.
2. It reinforces our view that schools are paranoid about bad publicity. We’ve mentioned before the Ofsted Paradox: we’re letting the community down when we don’t report a glowing Ofsted, but irresponsible gutter hacks when we highlight a negative one.
3. This is what Government “league” tables and “performance” results have done. Nowhere in the email chat does anyone say: “Well, we might be the best but can’t we also flag up that our kids are happy?”
4. These are schools we’re talking about. One line in the email chat reads: “Communicating it in such a politically sensitive landscape is tricky.” No. A “politically sensitive landscape” is stopping Syrians killing each other. School exam results, within quite a wide range of acceptability, are not.
Politics, in its broadest sense, should have no place in schools, except that successive Governments have decided that schools need to compete, for everything.
And does the attitude of rubbishing your colleagues and peers at other educational establishments extend to the kids? Do teachers rubbish their counterparts in the classroom?
Finally: a lot of newspapers would have run this story, with relish, naming names and possibly costing jobs.
We’re not going to.
We’d imagine those involved are now hiding in corners, gibbering but at the end of the day we’ve only got sympathy for them.
It’s not their fault education has become such a battleground.