In This Together

KTRK and the Chronicle contribute to an HISD campaign

The Houston school district is an absolutely terrific, terrific place to be a teacher -- it's "nationally recognized" and it's got "great benefits" and "good pay."

At least it's a terrific place to work according to the Houston school district, which has launched a teacher-recruiting campaign based on those selling points. And apparently it's a terrific place to work according to three local media outlets who have made five-figure contributions to the district to help fund its $100,000 drive.

The Houston Chronicle and television stations KTRK (Channel 13) and KXLN (the Spanish-language Univision affiliate) have all made sizable donations to the campaign, mostly through producing advertisements and donating the space or airtime for them.

The estimated value of what KTRK is donating is $34,200, says HISD spokeswoman Heather Browne; the district will actually pay only $10,000 for the services and airtime, resulting in a net donation of $24,200. Net donations from the Chron and KXLN will be $10,851 and $12,550, respectively.

The recruitment campaign, developed by local PR firm Sachnowitz & Co., will also be funded by Infinity Outdoor Advertising, Bill Young Productions, the outdoor-advertising firm Eller Media and other donors.

"The district and our media partners recognize the need to get the word out," Browne says. "I don't see that there would be any conflict or any swaying of their coverage of the district -- they just recognize the need for teachers. This is a way for the partners to work with us."

Hey, they're not just reporters covering the district -- they're Media Partners!

The Chron did mention its involvement in the campaign in a June 19 story about the drive. That's a change from the past, where the paper has contributed generously to political campaigns without informing its readers -- most notably, its donating almost $140,000 in free advertising a few years ago to the group supporting a new baseball stadium. (The Chron didn't exactly highlight its involvement with the HISD campaign: A buried paragraph listed the ten donors, and the paper's name was sixth on that list.)

The current teacher-recruiting drive is the biggest PR campaign the district has done in 20 years, Browne says. The previous campaign tried to convince people that the district's budget and tax burden were justified; she said she thought the Chronicle and other media also participated back then but couldn't come up with any evidence by press time.

The Chronicle didn't deign to talk about the current campaign; in the past officials have said that such decisions are made by the ad department and not the editorial side, and in no way do they influence any reportage. We assume they'd say the same thing now.

Howard Kurtz, the media critic for The Washington Postand CNN, says news organizations often donate money for what they term "community causes," but he adds, "It always makes me uncomfortable. Sure, the donation comes from the corporate side, not the newsroom, but such payments inevitably raise questions about whether the coverage might be affected." KTRK news director Dave Strickland was unaware of the campaign, or his station's contribution to it, when first contacted. He thought at first it might be a contribution from Disney, which owns the station. He didn't want to comment without doing some digging first; the digging, unfortunately, took longer than our deadline.

Small-Town News

KPRC is apparently having a hard time weaning itself from the contest fixation that springs up every sweeps period.

The giveaways always boost Channel 2's ratings, but apparently you can't just keep giving money away. So the station has looked to the nation's proud neighborhood associations for its latest gimmick: It will be conducting a Yard of the Month contest.

We hear that PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is mightily pissed that KPRC beat them to the punch on this. And, of course, KOTA-TV in Rapid City, South Dakota, thinks it owns the concept, which regularly produces must-see sweeps-month viewing among the 14 people with lawns in that market.

Undeterred, KPRC will enhance Houston's international-city reputation by giving $500 to the person with the best darn lawn around, beginning in August. "KPRC will send the Garden Guy and a camera crew to your home," the station's Web site informs potential winners.

Next up for Channel 2: a potluck dinner for everybody, with honors to Best Casserole.

A camera crew will be sent to the lucky chef's home, we're sure.

Unassailable Logic

There's absolutely no arguing with the headline on the Chronicle's June 26 editorial: "Exploding Phones Won't Help Cause of Peace in Mideast."

Still, we're sure that if there are any readers out there who believe that, to the contrary, exploding phones might just be the key to ending thousands of years of religious strife in that war- torn land, their views will no doubt find a place in the Chron's letters-to-the- editor section.

Those opinion-venting letter writers couldn't do much worse than our own Mayor Lee P. Brown, who penned a missive published in The New York Times June 27.

We'd be tempted to say someone on Brown's staff actually wrote it, but the three-paragraph letter is so stunningly filled with clichés and triteness that it has the unmistakable imprint of that uniquely Brown charisma.

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