The week I wish had never occurred and what I learned

The events of the past week have been like none I have ever experienced, or wished to experience, in my 20 years of small town newspaper journalism.

People involved in reporting news are not supposed to be the news and, following a very unfortunate chain of events and circumstances, that became a very unpleasant reality.

I have found that it is hard to report a news event that is so close to you. This doesn’t just hit close to home, it hits directly at home.

There are so many things to say, but yet for a person whose job it is to write words every day, I have been at a loss for them since 4:12 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13.

That is when, while I was working on laying out the Jan. 15 edition of the paper, a call came to my cell phone from Maria Jackson, the mother of Jordan and Juwaun Jackson.

I was somewhat surprised by the call, as I had not talked to her previously. As she continued to speak, I sensed a strain in her voice and I began to get an uneasy feeling.

Then when she said her boys, Jordan and Juwaun, had been suspended for the next boys basketball game because of a photo that ran in our Jan. 1 paper, it became too much.

The next roughly 96 hours were truly a blur. I found myself facing situations and having discussions that I’ve never had before with people I never thought I would be talking to for something I could not understand one bit.

I still can’t comprehend how a photo taken by one of the biggest supporters of Sheboygan Falls High School sports that I know, Steve Ottman, to go along with a positive story about brothers adapting to a new school district, playing in the same basketball program and looking ahead to their futures, could be interpreted in such a way that exploded with such force into such a breathtakingly negative situation.

And there was plenty of blame to be placed all around. Some blamed me, others blamed the school district, police department, parents, students, community or society in general.

I honestly, don’t know if there is any one person or entity to blame in this situation, because it is so complicated with so many factors playing in.

I am directly involved and I’m not sure if I will ever truly know what went on and why it went on.

So much has been posted on social media with some people making inflammatory and untrue statements, while others expressed support and even sympathy for the people involved. For others it became talk show fodder and a joke. A cruel one at that.

I have to admit that a few of the posts I made on The Sheboygan Falls News Facebook page in response to other posts may have come off the wrong way.

I only responded when I felt a post was stating things that were untrue or unconfirmed. At times, my emotions and devotion to defending The Sheboygan Falls News brimmed over.

I did not mean to single out the 2013 Sheboygan Falls High School baseball team for doing anything wrong in the celebration photo that was taken following the team’s third straight sectional championship.

Ryan Fladvid has done an outstanding job has head coach of the SFHS baseball team and I think that is an awesome photo of a happy team.

My point was that we’ve published many celebratory and team photos in which students are making poses and doing hand gestures which show off their devotion and enthusiasm for the sports they love to compete in.

I would hate to see us stop running these great photos, but we may need to re-evaluate our approach. I am upset about the situation, as many others are, especially since it started with me.

The one thing I’ve learned is that it is always important to stand up for what you think is right, no matter how unpopular it might be.

I stand by the photo of the Jackson brothers. I think it is a good photo. With that being said, I feel badly that my decision to run the photo has caused such pain and anguish for the Jackson family and District Administrator Jean Born, who I believe received way too much blame for this debacle.

There were other forces at play in this situation that we may never fully realize.

Now I hope it is over, or nearly over, and we can move forward and go on with doing what we normally do in Sheboygan Falls.

I’m ready for the Sheboygan Falls News to return to being one of the most non-controversial newspapers on earth once again.

And to think I always thought that’s what it was. Oh well.

I want people to continue to take joy in having their picture appear in the paper and I know it makes many people very happy when it happens.

I will be talking to the people directly involved in this situation and I will be formulating a new plan and new set of criteria to make sure that something like this never happens again, at least as long as I am the editor of The Sheboygan Falls News.

The people we photograph in trust for the paper should be protected from such ridicule and I will do my best to make sure of that.

I will be meeting with the Jackson family, Police Chief Steve Riffel and School District Administrator Jean Born over the next week to gather more information about this very unfortunate incident. Stay tuned.

I am looking forward to a little bit calmer week with fewer TV crews stopping by and not as many radio and newspaper reporters calling for interviews and permission to run one of our “fun” photos on their websites and in their publications.

I am ready to move on. Maybe a little bit wiser than I was before.

I hope all of you are too.

Jeff Pederson

Sheboygan Falls News editor

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