Dickinson Public Schools’ Ballot Measure Wording Unnecessary and Could Sway Votes

As many Dickinson area early and absentee voters have already learned, we have a local measure on our June primary ballot. I first learned of the measure as I was filling out my ballot this evening. I hadn’t heard anything about it this election cycle, and I doubt many of you had either.

With a hotly contested City Commission and a mayoral race, the measure is a relatively minor news item that has been largely ignored. That’s because this measure isn’t something out of left field. It’s the regular ballot measure asking if Dickinson Public School minutes should be published in the local newspaper of record. Though it’s unnamed in the measure, that newspaper is The Dickinson Press, which I worked at for more than a decade and was editor of for three-and-a-half years.

North Dakota school boards are required to regularly ask the public if it wants to continue having board minutes published in the school district’s newspaper of record. It’s generally a formality and rarely, if ever, gets voted down. Thankfully North Dakota voters are a relatively informed bunch.

But it isn’t often that the question is asked in the way Dickinson Public Schools worded its measure on this year’s primary ballot. What stands out is the suspect verbiage of the measure, which is pointedly worded in a manner that could easily sway voters and frankly should never have been allowed on the ballot. The measure reads: 

“Dickinson Public Schools has been publishing the Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper at a significant cost to the taxpayers. Additionally, Dickinson Public Schools has been posting the meeting minutes on the District’s website and will continue to post them. As a taxpayer, do you wish Dickinson Public Schools to continue to publish the School Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper of the school district?”

I can’t express how significant and inappropriate the inclusion of the lines “at a significant cost to the taxpayers” and “As a taxpayer” are on a ballot measure. This is basically like asking “Do you approve a $110 million bond measure to build a new high school because the current school is overcrowded and needs millions of dollars in repairs?”

Wording measures like this is a slippery slope — especially when it affects public information. 

So many people in Dickinson have bemoaned The Dickinson Press’ move from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a weekly newspaper — a financial decision not made locally but entirely by executive management of The Press’ ownership group Forum Communications Co. 

Yet, here we are, with Dickinson Public Schools — the largest public entity in the community — using “taxpayer funds” as a way to try and get out of publishing its minutes in the local newspaper. Without some in-depth research, I can’t tell you how much money the school pays The Dickinson Press to publish these minutes. But my knowledge of how much legal notices cost leads me to believe it’s a drop in the bucket of the school district’s budget. 

The board, Superintendent Shon Hocker and anyone involved in putting together that measure should be ashamed of how it is worded and that they’re even proposing such a move.

More than anything, public meeting minutes are recorded in a newspaper as a way to serve as a historic document. If I wanted to go back to 1975 and see what happened at a Dickinson Public School board meeting, I can. I would just go to The Dickinson Press or the State Library in Bismarck and ask for the dates I want to research. There, I’ll find the school board minutes. Published in full. 

Do we have any assurance that, if only published on the school’s website, those minutes will remain there forever? Of course not. Like any other record or document, they’ll eventually get pushed to the side to make room for something else. They’re currently published from 2008 to today, but any further back than that and you’ll need to go looking for an old newspaper.

There are still many people who expect to see public meeting minutes published in their local newspaper, whether they’re community watchdogs, or the elderly and old-fashioned who simply don’t use the Internet. If nothing else, it’s a worthy gesture for any public entity to assure citizens they’re not trying to hide anything. 

The funny thing is, The Press has actually been publishing the Dickinson Public School board meeting minutes on its website along with the physical newspaper. So the school is already getting a two-for-one deal. We didn’t do this when I was there. We should have. This is a good change. 

I have hope that the vast majority will vote “Yes” and force Dickinson Public Schools to continue publishing its school board meeting minutes in The Dickinson Press. North Dakotans shouldn’t allow a single public entity to take any steps to halt the publishing of public information in community newspapers of record.

Press named best small daily in North Dakota

The North Dakota Newspaper Association's General Excellence and Sweepstakes awards were given to The Dickinson Press on Friday night.
The North Dakota Newspaper Association’s General Excellence and Sweepstakes awards were given to The Dickinson Press on Friday night.

BISMARCK — The Dickinson Press was named the state’s best small daily newspaper during a ceremony Friday night at the Heritage Center.

The Press claimed the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s General Excellence and Sweepstakes awards for daily newspapers with a circulation of 12,000 or less — the highest honors given in the category. The newspaper also won the most individual first-place and total awards in both the editorial and advertising contents.

Press Publisher Harvey Brock said winning these honors “just reaffirms what I already know — that I’m privileged to work with a team of professionals who go about the business of putting out the best paper possible every day. We’re blessed to work for a company that gives us the training, resources and a culture to succeed. Congratulations to everyone.”

Managing Editor Dustin Monke won five first-place awards and reporter Andrew Brown won two in the editorial contest. Reporters Nadya Faulx, Bryan Horwath and Meaghan MacDonald, and Sports Editor Royal McGregor each claimed one first-place award.

“Our staff deserves all the credit for the awards they received,” Monke said. “They put in long hours — working nights and weekends — and tackled a variety of challenging stories in 2014. I’m proud of their efforts and am glad to see their hard work has been recognized.”

Advertising consultant David Hanson won two first-place honors in the advertising contest, while consultants Nikki Baer, Jenn Binstock, Sam Cunningham and Sonya Sacks each won one award in the advertising contest.

“Great advertising always sells advertising, and getting awards is always nice for the team. It validates that what they do is very, very important,” Press Advertising Director Bob Carruth said.

The General Excellence award factors in a newspaper’s reporting, editing, headlines, photography, design, advertising and production from three selected days. The judges commented on The Press’ “excellent news reporting, writing, editing.”

The Sweepstakes honor is given to the newspaper with the most awards in its circulation category, and is determined by a weighted point system. The Press won 20 first-place awards, 18 second places, 17 third places and eight honorable mentions across all categories.

Click below for a full list of award-winners.
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Page layout changes designed to help quality, content

As you have read through today’s newspaper, you have undoubtedly notice that our page arrangement has changed.

Obituaries, Lifestyles, North Dakota and Markets are all now on different pages than you are used to seeing. For the most part, the content is the same. It’s just in a different place.
We have made these changes for a number of reasons.

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No-Shave November itchy, but rewarding

What absolute gross looks like in the heart of winter.

When our publisher, Harvey Brock, asked me if I’d ever heard of No-Shave November and Movember, I laughed and told him of course I had as I consider myself at least somewhat tuned into trends.

Then he asked if I’d ever tried it.

As a guy who had never gone past the so-called “sexy stubble” stage of facial hair, I told him I never had. It’s partially because I always had a job where keeping a clean look was necessary and also because I never felt I could actually grow enough hair on my face for it to look decent.

Maybe I wasn’t so trendy after all.

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Readers encouraged to check out new Press website

The newspaper industry, perhaps more than any other, must keep up with technology in order to stay relevant.

In the early 1900s, we didn’t run any photos and had hundreds of small stories in tiny type jam-packed onto our front page. Photos were commonplace by the mid-20th century but putting a newspaper together was still a tedious process of typewriters and typesetting. By the turn of the century, computer programs had changed the way the industry worked as well as the way newspapers presented themselves.

Think about this: The day after Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919, The Press had a 200-word story that it gave below-the-fold treatment. There was no photo, illustration or anything. Not even an obituary.

Today, that story would have been standing alone on our front page with many of you rushing to our website long before the newspaper arrived at your home the next morning. Some of you would have been directed to the story on our website via an email or text message alert.

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