No one enjoys reading about young teenagers trying to commit suicide.
No one at this newspaper enjoys writing about it.
The fact is, we have a policy in our newsroom that prevents most suicide stories from being published, along with bomb threats, for the simple reason that we do not want to be part of the problem by being used to get attention in such a negative fashion.
There are obvious exceptions to the rule, such as when a prominent official, a disturbing trend, or some other factor that must be considered is involved with the story, but as a rule of thumb, suicides and especially suicide attempts do not get headlines in the newspaper. We value life and stories about life much more.
So a question from last week: Why did The Daily Times publish a story on Page 1 in Thursday's edition about two attempted suicides at Kirtland Central High School?
The answer: Because Kirland Central High School and its supervising Central Consolidated School District made the decision for us, and it was because of them this story appeared on Page 1.
I talked to a school district official who called to ask for himself what our policy is regarding suicides.
My explanation to him was clear and direct. Had the school and the school district better handled this situation, there likely never would have been a need for the newspaper to be involved. We likely would not have written a story, unless it was because so many other students witnessed the problems.
Or unless it was related to The Associated Press report warning parents of the trend being talked about among teens practicing necktie hangings. We might have reported the same warning. But we didn't know about the AP story until after the Kirtland Central incidents.
We didn't know about any such trends that national school officials are trying to warn parents about.
Therefore, on a normal day, this was a no-story, or certainly not Page 1.
Central Consolidated and Kirtland Central put this story on the front page.
They did so when they did the same exact thing to us that dozens of upset, distraught and angry callers said the school officials had done to them: ignored us.
Kirtland Central Principal Michael Thornton either was misleading or proved he is a sloppy administrator Thursday night when he informed the school board: "I had no contact from the newspaper. If I had, I would have referred them to Mr. Hayes," referring to the district's interim superintendent, Charles Hayes.
But Mr. Thornton did not stop there, adding this commentary:
"It's obvious the angle the reporter was going after. She was not concerned with the safety of the student."
Just what was the angle the reporter was going after?
Death, scandal and mayhem in the schools?
I think the headlines just last week from Northern Illinois University prove we don't have to fish a very deep pond for that.
Nor do the recent headlines about Central Consolidated sending so many people on a trip to Hawaii. Seems to me the headlines are plentiful enough without our having to involve a couple of troubled teenagers.
Picking on Kirtland Central, are we?
That makes about as much sense as the guy who recently wrote a letter accusing us of being a promotional public relations entity for another school, right when that school's supporters were mad at us for reporting on a gay/straight alliance club controversy instead of ignoring it.
It makes about as much sense as the call I just took from the woman suggesting we are prejudiced against Mormons because we dared report the FBI's beliefs that the fire at a local seminary last week was not done as a hate crime. This despite our inclusion of Mormons on our staff along with Catholics, Baptists, Navajo, Hispanic and every other ounce of diversity we can recruit in a sincere effort to represent all voices the best we can.
This may come as a shock to some, but we actually prefer happy readers as opposed to offended readers.
Ah, so this brings us back to the question of why the story ran in the first place.
It ran, Mr. Thornton and members of the school board, because it was your parents and your teachers who flooded our phone lines with upset and desperate pleas for help, who despite your claims to the contrary, accused your school of not providing counseling when it was needed and waiting too late.
They accused your school and your district of poorly dealing with parents and students and, as you did with us, ignoring their pleas for help with answers.
They accused your school of not allowing their children to call home, of keeping them locked down when some of them were crying for help.
You, Mr. Thornton, Mr. Hayes, and members of the board, moved this report from the school office to the front page when you ignored these parents and teachers, and then proved you were capable of doing such a thing by ignoring us, too.
My sincere apologies to those parents and students of Kirtland and Central Consolidated who feel some of the mud these people are slinging on you is made worse by our having to do our job of exposing it. But, as some of you obviously realize by turning to us for help, only by exposing this might the next child who needs it get the proper attention, when they need it.
My guess is, the backpedaling to help provide the needs now is because of your calls and the ensuing backlash from parents.
We certainly did not go hunting for this story, nor did we really want to do it with half of our staff out sick.
If the district did provide any timely counseling in this case, Central Consolidated sure wanted to keep it a secret.
There are many, many fine people who work for Central Consolidated, and Kirtland Central is a fantastic school with students who continue to impress me in their achievements. One of my favorite editors on our staff is a graduate of Kirtland Central, who is Navajo and mesmerizes me with her stories of childhood and family traditions. It is obvious the pride she has in her alma mater, and we share it with her.
But by Golly, if it were my child who witnessed a near tragedy or is in need of immediate counseling, you don't just have an angry editor on your hands, you've got an angry dad. And that is what we were hearing on the phone, all day long; angry moms and dads.
Some of them claimed to be your teachers, Mr. Thornton and Mr. Hayes, who gave us their name but would not allow us to use it because, as I sense they are correct in assuming, there would be hell to pay, if they kept their job at all.
Further, if you weren't intentionally misleading the public at the school board meeting Thursday night, please allow me to tell you that I personally witnessed our reporter making call after call to your personal voice mail, to your secretary, to your school district and to anyone and everyone we could think about to help set this story straight.
How does a competent school administrator miss so many attempts, as this principal suggested when he said on record he had no contact from the newspaper?
They do not. We made ourselves anything but an oversight easily ignored. I know, because I was the one who held the story for a day until we put in yet another round of calls. Our reporters and editors did not like that, but I personally held the story waiting for Mr. Thornton's or Mr. Hayes' explanation to these parents, students and teachers.
It never came; at least, not until Thursday night's school board meeting, after the story was published.
I certainly understand the challenges of a school administrator. I join those who bash the sad state of affairs parenting has evolved into these days and the lack of responsibility many parents have in making their children understand education as a priority. The job of a principal is no easy job, and I admire anyone just for trying to do it. Comma, but, these kids and perhaps the parents just as much needed reassuring counsel, and they obviously did not get it soon enough. Many became emotionally distraught, either over the teen incidents or angry because of the school's lack of response.
You messed up in this case, and we called you on it.
Don't blame the messenger. Fix the problem.
These students are indeed what is most important.
Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M. 87401; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.