We ran a couple of Page 1 stories this week that we knew were far from complete.
That’s because, in each case, we were very aware that the story was based, in large part, on “preliminary” information. And we were very aware that the story might ultimately turn out far different from the one that we presented; in fact, in one of the cases, we hope that’s the case.
The stories, both of which appeared on the front of Friday’s Times, focused on the New England Fishery Management Council’s “preliminary” projections for the 2013 cod catch limits, and a sampling of preliminary MCAS test scores of students at Gloucester Community Arts Charter School.
The early fishery numbers are scary. As Richard Gaines’ story noted, the regional council is projecting that Gulf of Maine cod catch limits for the next fishing season, beginning next May 1, could be 72 percent lower than the allowable catch for the current year. And remember that the current year’s cod limit is already 22 percent lower than last year’s, thanks to 2011 assessment data that many fishermen and industry advocates still question, given what they’re finding on the seas.
The charter school preliminary numbers are ones that we hope do hold up; as outlined in the school’s annual report, they purport to show that up to 19 percent more GCACS students in some grade levels tested as being proficient in this past spring’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, tests. The annual report, delivered by the school this week to the state’s Department of Education, cited preliminary MCAS numbers sent to schools by the state for review and potential questions prior to the final, public release of all the test numbers in September.
There are, of course, real holes in all of these figures and in both stories. There will likely be all sorts of discussion and revisions to the fishing limits — figures that pose very dire consequences for the entire New England industry even nine months from now. So you may wonder, why would we run a story based on preliminary data, knowing the limits may change?
And we recognize that the charter report doesn’t make any reference to how the school’s students fares on the MCAS math tests, where the GCAS’ numbers were among the lowest in the state last year. So why again, would we run admittedly incomplete and preliminary information?
In other words, why would your community’s newspaper do that?
Because, however preliminary, both sets of figures show what officials are using, as of now, to take and, or seek future actions that can affect you, our readers.
In the charter school’s case, the preliminary MCAS results are indeed part of the school’s final 2010-2011 annual report, designed to show stated officials the progress the school and the students have made. In that vein, those are claims that you should know about as students on all levels across Cape Ann prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks.
In the case of the fishing statistics, it seems especially important to get the word out about the council’s preliminary projections, since it’s only through knowing them that anyone can press for changes.
That’s often the primary reason for running stories with what is often viewed as “preliminary” information. Whenever a reporter lets me know he or she has a good story, but the information or perhaps development plans are very preliminary, my response is usually something like this: lf we waited until everything was finalized before we reported it, it would be too late for anyone to argue for changing it. And that would be an immense disservice to you, our readers, and the community as a whole.
Yes, these stories may be based on preliminary numbers. But they’re the number our officials are using. And that makes them worthy of front-page local news.
As always, let me know what you think.
Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future story? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000 x3438, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.