This past month, Ark Valley Voice (AVV) has covered two highly emotional news stories; the abrupt shutdown of the Chaffee Childcare Initiative program at The Schoolhouse with charges filed against two directors, and the relinquishment of the Daniff-Mastiff named Echo.
In each case, we broke the news stories; first reporting on the forceful manner in which The Schoolhouse was shut down, and in the other case writing a feature story on the Vrooman’s decision to rehome the dog Echo.
The Schoolhouse continues as a developing story. Class 2 misdemeanor charges were filed, a motion to dismiss has been filed and court dates loom. But the fact that it continues as a developing story is related not only to that; it is the continuing crisis that the working parents of two dozen children continue to face as they try to find childcare for their small children so they can make a living.
Last week according to Colorado contract law, the dog named Echo was determined by the courts to be the property of the Ark-Valley Humane Society, the injunction request was withdrawn, the Vroomans were allowed to say farewell to Echo, and AVHS sent a letter to the community that we published.
In each case, we have seen community comment on the news stories on arkvalleyvoice.com, as well as on our social media pages. As long as the comments come from actual people who provide their names, do not name-call or swear, do not threaten other individuals, or promote or condone violence, we will publish those comments. If you make a claim about something or someone, it has to be substantiated. Those types of comments are covered by the First Amendment.
What’s more, our role as a news organization makes us one of the primary stewards of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
As fellow citizens of this community, we wish to contribute to the greater good and enjoy a robust and often difficult discussion through comments. However, name-calling, doxxing, claims made without claims substantiation, threats, and especially violent speech or veiled threats do not contribute to the greater good or a robust and meaningful public discourse and therefore will not be tolerated.
Given that one news topic involves small children and the other a pet, we weren’t surprised by the emotions elicited by the stories. But we have been concerned by the number of over-the-top responses on social media concerning the dog Echo.
Frankly, we’ve had discussions for the past few days on whether or not to shut off comments on some of the rowdier discussions regarding the fate of Echo. But social media is like a nesting doll; if someone comments on a topic, and then someone comments on that as a reply, and another person comments on that comment it is a single thread.
If we remove one offending comment, we risk removing the entire thread. Then we would be shutting down freedom of speech, which we don’t want to do. But we are on record: any discussion of violence goes beyond freedom of speech and will not be tolerated.
News media often walk a fine line; just telling a news story at all can cause some to accuse us of taking sides; when what we are doing is covering the facts and sometimes raising questions about the topic on which we are reporting.
It has been said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
If so, then bringing questions and concerns out into the light regarding an organization or a situation can point out misconceptions, reveal disinformation and highlight potential areas of improvement.
This is especially true if an entity receives public funds, is a public-serving governmental division, or quasi-government entity, or is said to represent the public good, then that entity should expect scrutiny. It should take responsibility for its decisions, be willing to take in new information, and be willing to adjust as new facts become available. It should have clear written policies, and it should see that its staff is prepared for crisis management.
As journalists, our role is always to seek transparency and truth. As AVV Publisher and Managing Editor, what AVV covers is my responsibility. Two key questions underlying everything we do — first that we are giving truth a voice and second; “does the public have a right to know?”
In these two cases, we believe we have given truth a voice and that the public does indeed have a right to know. But at this point, the comments regarding AVHS and Echo are over the top, and as other local news media has done, we are closing comments.
As always, we accept letters to the editor as long as our policies (stated above) are followed, sent to email@example.com.
Apparently, AVHS does not believe in freedom of speech as they shut down all of their comment sections on their website and Facebook, close to a month ago. They also stopped answering their phones and their fax number isn’t available. What a disservice Amber did to the community telling everyone to direct any concerns to her email and than blatantly ignoring them. Who knows how many animals possibly missed out on a forever home due to this!
Thank you Jan, for shedding light to Echo’s plight. If an entity that claims to work for “the greater good of the community” withholds information from the public, which hinders their own agendas, the very public is gaslighted and manipulated. If said entity also manipulates public comments on their social platforms, it reflects a non-transparency that is troublesome. Betraying the public while collecting funds from the very public is not only unethical, but calls for an investigation.
The protocol in which Echo’s sad fate was executed, leaves many relevant questions. But the fear mongering and drama only continue because the public doesn’t know everything. That’s where you came in to tell the story the tax paying public deserves to know and many more details will come out in the future I’m sure.
Scrutiny is served where it’s deserved, called for and trust is no longer a reliable option. And that’s how it should be.