Manual Teacher Story Provides Media Lessons

Thank goodness for high school yearbooks. Former Manual teacher Carrie Shafer

What in the name of Mary Kay Letourneau is going on around here?

There’s no doubt the juiciest story in the news yesterday was that 38-year-old biology teacher Carrie Shafer of Manual High School was caught drinking and probably having sex with a 17-year-old Manual student in a public park.  If I’m a news director, it’s a no-brainer that it’s the lead story on the late news.

But I’m not a news director. Still, here’s a clue as to why WLKY-TV leads the late news ratings. WLKY reporter Erin Haynes was live outside the Courthouse (where nothing at all was happening) reporting on the story. The station gave it a full 2 minutes as its top story, complete with a photo and all the details — mentioning condoms and sex and with video of the handicapped parking spot in Miles Park where the couple was discovered nearly nude with the windows steamed up.

Over at Fox41, the story on the 10 p.m. news came on 2nd, but the station had no picture of Shafer. But the surprising thing about last night’s coverage was the treatment at WHAS. After leading with a piece about Japan’s problems, the station had stories on the New Albany school cuts, the JCPS board meeting, a fire, a child porn sting, a West End murder, and the Burke trial, and then the first break. It was only after the commercial that the Manual story was mentioned.

Now I didn’t record WAVE’s late news, but the story it has on its website right now is more in-depth. From it, we learn the juicy details — Shafer is a married mother of 2, led the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Manual, and several students spoke out saying how great she is.

And there’s another media story here. A student-run website, which reported on Shafer’s resignation, has been ordered by principal Larry Wooldridge to ignore the story. That’s disappointing. There are also no comments under the brief resignation story. It’s a great opportunity for student journalism, for student writers to get a taste of what happens when real news happens, and how to get it. That Manual’s acclaimed communications program chooses to pass on the opportunity is shameful.

Finally, the C-J’s story give us the fact that she lives in an upscale area near Miles Park, on Ashburton Drive.

But maybe the best thing about this kind of story is that there will be more, much more, as Shafer’s case winds its way through the courts. And the story has enough legs, I think, that it will get the attention of out-of-town media.