Ricker’s assertion about unbalanced coverage not supported by the facts, Milligan says

Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker

Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker

By Staff Report

Superintendent Tim Ricker’s assertion that the Call does not want to cover the Mehlville School District with a balanced journalistic viewpoint is not supported by the facts, according to Bill Milligan, the newspaper’s general manager.

In a recent fax to the newspaper, Ricker stated that during the 10 months he has served as superintendent, “the Call has continued to portray the district, some of its employees and some Board of Education members in an unbalanced fashion.”

The Call published Ricker’s fax as a letter to the editor in last week’s issue. The superintendent also has included the fax in a letter he has sent to some district residents.

In reviewing the Call’s coverage of the Mehlville School District since the first of the year, Milligan said more than 50 news stories have been written about the district.

“Each of those news stories presented a balanced viewpoint in that comments from Board of Education members, administrators, other employees, advisory board volunteers or other district residents were included,” Milligan said. “Not once did this newspaper publish a news story about the Mehlville School District in which comments from board members, administrators or employees were not sought and included to accurately and objectively present their views on events and issues.

“What’s interesting,” Milligan continued, “is that Dr. Ricker does not dispute the accuracy of the coverage, but attempts to paint it as unbalanced. While he may not like or agree with our coverage of the district, to assert that it is unbalanced simply cannot be supported by the facts.”

For example, in the 19 issues of the Call — excluding the current issue — printed this year, roughly 37 news releases submitted by the office of School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace have been published, Milligan said.

“We challenge Dr. Ricker to find another newspaper that has published as many district news releases or district photographs as the Call has,” the general manager said.

Besides the vast number of news releases published, the Call has printed 30 photographs — many in color and some on the front page — submitted by the School/Community Relations Office since the first of the year, Milligan noted.

That number excludes the 33 photographs of the district’s candidates for Elementary Teacher of the Year, Secondary Teacher of the Year and Classified Employee of the Year that were published April 29. The Call has been publishing the photographs of the school district’s employee of the year candidates since 1997.

“To our knowledge, no other newspaper in south county has ever devoted the amount of valuable news space that we have to publish the photographs of the employee of the year candidates,” Milligan said. “In last week’s issue, we also published four photographs from the district’s 24th annual Recognition Night in which the Elementary Teacher of the Year, the Secondary Teacher of the Year and the Classified Employee of the Year were honored, along with district volunteers and retirees. Once again, we currently are unaware of any other newspapers that devoted any space to publishing any photographs from the district’s annual Recognition Night.

“While we may not agree with some of the actions of Dr. Ricker and the Board of Education, many great things are being done by the district’s teachers and students and we will continue to report on those accomplishments and publish district news releases and photographs despite Dr. Ricker’s efforts to make it more difficult for us to do our job. We believe the amount of space we have devoted to the Mehlville School District far surpasses the space given by any other area newspaper,” he added.

Besides the vast number of district-submitted news releases and photographs the Call has printed since January, the newspaper has published roughly 25 other news releases and/or photographs of recognitions received by Mehlville School District students that were bestowed by such organizations as the South County Kiwanis Club and the Mehlville Optimist Club, Milligan noted.

Furthermore, the Call also has published nearly 50 stories about the accomplishments of athletic teams from Mehlville and Oakville senior high schools since Jan. 1, according to the newspaper’s general manager.

“These facts demonstrate that the Call is the only newspaper bending over backward to present all the facts about all aspects of the Mehlville School District,” Milligan said. “I believe that Dr. Ricker is in error calling this publication unbalanced and I am convinced that his real meaning is that he can’t control what we print.

“Welcome to the real world, Dr. Ricker. The cornerstones of democracy are a free press and accountability. Dr. Ricker obviously doesn’t believe in either,” Milligan added.

In his fax to the Call, Ricker wrote that he has scheduled and conducted “exclusive interviews” with Call staffers since he became superintendent. However, due to what he contends is “unbalanced” coverage, “effective immediately, exclusive interviews will no longer be scheduled by me or the staff of the Mehlville School District,” Ricker wrote.

“Perhaps Dr. Ricker is unaware of the fact that what he calls ‘exclusive’ interviews began back in 1995 as ‘Meeting With the Media’ sessions initiated by Mr. Wallace’s predecessor, Michele Ludwig,” Milligan said.

Representatives of five local newspapers, including the Call, were invited to participate in the first “Meeting With the Media” session that took place Sept. 12, 1995, Milligan said, noting that besides Ludwig, then-Superintendent Bob Rogers and then-Associate Superintendent John Cary participated in the session.

“After time, the other newspapers apparently lost interest in participating in these sessions, but the Call continued to meet with Dr. Rogers and later Mr. Cary when he became superintendent,” Milligan said. “We appreciated the willingness of Dr. Rogers and Mr. Cary to meet with us so we could better inform our readers about the Mehlville School District. Since he became superintendent, Dr. Ricker has shown little enthusiasm for meeting with us or providing us with public information. Now that he has stopped meeting with us, we wonder if he has something to hide from the public.

“Despite Dr. Ricker’s efforts to make it more difficult for us to obtain public information about the district, this will not deter us from doing our job,” Milligan said. “If administrators or board members decline to comment or refuse to return our telephone calls or if information is not provided, that’s what will be reported in our news stories. We will continue to provide our readers with the same objective and balanced coverage of the Mehlville School District that we have been providing since the Call’s inception.”

Contacted by the Call, Ricker declined to comment, referring the newspaper to Wallace.