No news is good news, right? Well, maybe not if you look to the Garden City’s paper of record for relevant information about Spring Creek Lodge Academy, a boarding school for troubled teens tucked quietly into the mountains near Thompson Falls.
On Aug. 1 Missoulian readers woke up to a sunny story about Spring Creek students being given “a chance to paint a brighter picture for their futures” through sidewalk art. “Spring in their Steps” crowed the headline, and the picture painted by reporter John Stromnes positively glowed: The art project was described as “a disciplined, collaborative effort at creative self-expression disguised as a fun outdoor activity.” Of the school in general Stromnes wrote, “Spring Creek, after all, is a highly regimented boarding school that demands respect for others and accountability for oneself—and conformance to rules, which really means respect for others.”
Sounds like fun, but we were puzzled that any real news about Spring Creek was missing in action. In our June 16 cover story, the Independent reported that Spring Creek and its umbrella organization, Worldwide Association of Specialty Schools and Programs (WWASPS), had been named defendants in a lawsuit, wherein plaintiff Gregory Gomez alleges negligent child abuse and physical and mental abuse while at Spring Creek. We also detailed the battle raging between state legislators and Spring Creek lobbyists over proposed state regulation of Montana’s burgeoning teen behavior-modification programs. Maybe all that struck our daily counterparts as beside the point, so stricken were they with the opportunity to print a colorful photo.
Or maybe they just didn’t hear about it from Jacqueline Rutzke, the Missoulian story’s main source, identified therein as a mere art teacher, though in fact she’s both an administrative spokeswoman and registered lobbyist for the school.
As a small weekly paper low on the media food-chain, we’ve become accustomed to breaking stories and not being credited when larger papers pick them up. But we’re happy, flattered even, when they make their way further into the public consciousness. We’ve received feedback—positive and negative—from all over the country about our Spring Creek story, and have been running letters to the editor about it nearly every week since.
Apparently the Missoulian missed it, because there’s not the faintest whiff of controversy—never mind the news—in their latest love letter to Spring Creek. Past stories have taken a similarly feel-good tack: A Valentine’s Day story this year printed “postcards from the heart” written by Spring Creek students; a June 1 story announced the ending of a choir program partnership between the facility and Thompson Falls High School; a 2003 story highlighted Spring Creek’s Christmas program.
No news may be good news for Spring Creek, but can that really be true for Missoulian readers, too?