When bureaucracy blocks communication, everybody loses

No one will ever be able to accuse me of having gone to journalism school. However, over the years, through osmosis, I have become aware of the proper ways of doing things. Get the facts right; have an understanding of what you're writing about; and try to get a solid quote or two. Of course, if you're aiming for one of those Pulitzer Prize things, you might try to learn how to make up quotes and then hope that nobody finds out that the 8-year-old heroin addict you're writing about doesn't really exist.

Last week, I wrote about the debacle-in-the-making at Cholla High School, where an energetic, idealistic young coach who was in the process of resurrecting the boys' basketball program was being summarily booted out the door so that the Tucson Unified School District could make good on a legal obligation to provide a coaching position to a guy the district wrongly dismissed nearly a decade ago.

I would like to make it clear that Barry Wilson, the man to whom TUSD owes a job, is not the villain here. Barry's a good guy who had some success at Tucson High before the school board caved in to a couple of obnoxious basketball parents (if you'll pardon the redundancy). It's just my opinion that the kids at Cholla would benefit more from having the interim coach, Matt Poirier, left in place and giving Barry some other job.

The district has a legal obligation to Barry Wilson, but it has a moral and ethical obligation to those kids, and that should make it a real easy decision. If they have to give Barry some money to be patient for another year or so, do it. Heck, they can put it in the desegregation budget; they've been scamming the public for 30 years with that crapola.

So I wrote that column, and when I was getting to the end, I decided to get a quote or two to top things off. I called the principal at Cholla, Sam Giangardella. Back in the day, Sammy G. and I had worked together on the National Youth Sports Program at the UA. I figured I'd call him up, catch up on things and then get an "It ain't me" quote from him, because, well, it ain't him. It's the knuckleheads at 1010 E. 10th St.

I called Cholla and, after about 15 rings, a kid answered the phone. I identified myself and asked for Sammy. The kid transferred me to a woman, who then transferred me to the principal's secretary. She was about to give me to Sammy when she paused and asked, "Oh, wait. You're with the media, aren't you?"

I said I was, then she said, "Have you cleared it with (central)?"

I said, "Why would I? I want to talk to Sammy."

She told me that all (and she stressed "all") media requests have to be cleared with a person at central administration. She went on to explain that I would have to call someone named Estella Zavala, tell her what I'm writing about, tell her what questions I plan to ask, and then maybe I would be allowed to speak with Mr. Giangardella, whom I had apparently mistaken for an adult man in a position of responsibility.

Cursed with a morbid curiosity, I called Zavala. Another woman answered the phone and told me that Zavala was out of the office. I explained that I needed to ask Sammy a question, and she said that I could leave my name and number, and Zavala would get back to me later.

I said, "What if I was a real journalist on a real deadline?"

She said that I would just have to wait, which gave me insight into another reason why some journalists make up quotes. For the life of me, I can't understand why a sprawling district would want one person to be the clearinghouse for all media requests. One would think that the principal at Sabino would know best about what was going on at Sabino. In fact, if there is one person who knows everything about everything in District One, he/she must be a bad mother--SHUT YOUR MOUTH! But, I'm talkin' 'bout ... well, apparently, I'm talkin' 'bout Estella Zavala, with whom I ended up never speaking.

After thinking about it, I don't blame Zavala. I don't even blame District One for adding another layer of bureaucracy, because that's what they do best. I blame the beat reporters who put up with that nonsense. What are they teaching in journalism school these days? That you get to the monolith, get handed a press release, and then you go print the press release? The Eagles once sang, "... she can't take you anywhere you don't already know how to go."

The media people who allow District One to dole out information from one centralized eyedropper should all be ashamed of themselves. So as not to be a hypocrite, I called back Cholla three days after my initial attempt, determined to get Sammy on the phone. I was told that he's now the principal at Sahuaro High School.

I wonder if Estella Zavala knows.