Journalism or propaganda?
Reading the Wheeling News-Register's story about Bluefield’s engineering program
Mostly for selfish reasons, I have tried to stay away from writing about the Bluefield State College proposal to bring engineering courses to the former OVMC medical facility in Wheeling. Writing about that proposal, despite its simple appearance, takes in a lot of topics and territory and I figured that a post on the subject would be hard to limit without numerous tangents.*
I should never underestimate our local Ogden papers, however. Today, one of the weekend News-Register’s front-page articles on the controversy hit me where I felt I needed to respond: Eric Ayres, who has been the reporter assigned to the story since it first broke, skipped a number of his rudimentary journalistic responsibilities to leave us with a biased article that left me with even more unanswered questions than when I started.
Here are the story’s first two paragraphs:
Business leaders at both ends of the state say that Bluefield State College’s effort to provide accredited engineering programs and training initiatives in the Ohio Valley should not be viewed as a move to create competition amongst existing institutions of higher learning in the area.
Bluefield State officials gathered an array of Ohio Valley business executives during a dinner where Shannon Remines, president and CEO of Industrial Plating and Machine of Bluefield, W.Va., spoke about how a program offered through Bluefield State College helped his company.
Day 1 of Journalism 101 often starts with the 5 W’s of a story: who, what, when, where and why. Conspicuously missing from this article is the “when” and in this case, the “when” is important. Is this meeting recent, or as I suspect, one that took place in early-January? Consider who was also at this meeting:
Several officials from Wheeling-area manufacturers and companies attended the dinner where Remines gave his presentation . . . along with officials from the city of Wheeling and other local companies.
If you remember, Bluefield’s president, Robin Capehart, argued in January that Bluefield had conducted a survey and found that there was a local demand for an engineering program in the Ohio Valley. For example, here he is recently on WTRF recalling that survey:
Person after person said ‘yes these are exactly the programs we need’. These programs will provide the skill set we need for our business.
This brings up an obvious question: Was the dinner featured in today’s story where Bluefield’s survey was conducted? If so, then Capehart and Bluefield decided who would take part in the survey and what the survey found.
(As far I am concerned, the survey is the most important element of the entire Bluefield-in-Wheeling story and is central to whether anyone, be it Bluefield or a local college, should create an engineering program at considerable expense to the public. If the survey did not come from the dinner, who conducted the survey? Who was polled? What specifically did they say? Currently, all we have is Capehart’s and Bluefield’s assertion that local businesses believe that there is a need for such a program in the Ohio Valley. Most importantly, before Bluefield or West Virginia Northern/Wheeling University institute what will likely be an expensive program, shouldn’t we have some evidence, other than hearsay, that there is an actual need for an engineering program locally?)
Hiding (or neglecting to check) the source’s obvious bias
I would estimate that 90% of the article’s information comes from Shannon Remines. As I noted earlier, Ayres tells us that Remines is CEO and president of a Bluefield business. What the article does not tell us is that Remines is also a member of Bluefield State College’s Board of Governors. (He was appointed to the Board in September 2019.) My understanding of board of governors is that members, except for constituent representatives (faculty, staff, students), are chosen by the institution’s president. In this case, Remines would have been appointed by then-acting president Robin Capehart. Presidents appoint supporters not critics. If we as readers are going to fairly assess what Remines states in the article, shouldn’t we know about his relationship to Bluefield and Capehart? Of course, we should – but this article is about persuading, not informing. (Yeah, it’s typically Ogden.)
*Yes, despite my best intentions, this post took a lot more time than I thought it would.