Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Why would a newspaper promote literacy?

Posted by metaphorical on 19 January 2007

Would you say there’s a direct connection between literacy, the ability to use the English language, and promoting interest in reading and in reading newspapers? There used to be one in Rhode Island, but not anymore.

The Providence Phoenix, the city’s alternative paper, is reporting that Rhode Island’s main newspaper, the Providence Journal, has withdrawn its “sponsorship for the Rhode Island Statewide Spelling Bee — resulting in the cancellation of this year’s competition.”

The Journal’s decision to no longer serve as the event’s main sponsor was communicated in a letter sent just before Christmas time to the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, which helps to coordinate the bee. “Unfortunately, it won’t happen this year as a result,” says John Golden, the association’s executive director.

Being the lead sponsor for the bee, which was scheduled for March, “is expensive and it eats up a lot of staff time,” particularly in the ProJo’s promotions department. Golden, who was unable to identify the precise cost of lead sponsorship, places it at “something in excess of $5000.” Because of the cancellation, schools have been encouraged to conduct their own local spelling bees.

The Phoenix reports that “a number of ProJo staffers are angry and flabbergasted by the newspaper’s withdrawal of sponsorship, which has gone unreported in Rhode Island’s newspaper of record.”

“This is just incomprehensible,” says reporter John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild. “I don’t see how you could have an event that is more connected to a newspaper’s mission, which is reading, and learning about the world, and expanding your vocabulary. These are things that you need to learn if you’re going to be a newspaper reader or a Web site reader.”

Hill recalls having covered a packed Rhode Island spelling bee last year in which study guides provided by the ProJo were a ubiquitous sight. “To throw that away, I’m completely baffled by it,” he says. “It just betrays a tone deafness to what the Journal’s role in the community ought to be, and we are diminishing that role.”

According to one comment dated 1/17 on the Phoenix’s website, the Journal’s withdrawal threatened the ability of Rhode Island kids to go to the nationals:

I was livid when I got saw this news! My son placed 1st in his 8th grade class in his school spelling bee. He will be competing at the Citywide level next week. This is his final year to compete and he is being robbed of a potential opportunity of his lifetime–to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Our family have spent much time, energy, and money preparing for this event. Therefore, I do not understand how a corporation can say that $5000 can be worth denying hundreds of bright students this opportunity.

A day later, someone else posted that there would be a statewide competition:

Well, the statewide bee HAS been saved, thanks to The Valley Breeze newspaper of northern Rhode Island, who signed on as official sponsor earlier this week. Yes, Rhode Island will be represented at the national level. Visit http://www.valleybreeze.com for details!

So there’s still a connection of literacy with newspapers, just not with the Providence Journal. That’s got to be doubly embarrassing to Journal employees.

“In terms of the spelling bee, newsroom people are very upset,” says a source. “They see a direct connection between literacy, the ability to use the English language, and promoting interest in reading and in reading newspapers.”

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