News Center Maine, the Portland-based NBC affiliate owned by Tegna Inc., cribbed the Maine Wire’s exclusive reporting on the abrupt dismissal of a King Middle School substitute teacher, but for some reason WCSH 6’s news website added an unsubstantiated headline and changed the story to remove salient details.
In the story, the Maine Wire revealed King Middle School officials banned a substitute teacher from working at the school after parents complained that middle school students had been exposed to inappropriate content on the substitute teacher’s social media.
One student said the substitute teacher wrote the TikTok handle on the classroom whiteboard, which amounted to an invitation for students to inspect the content.
But according to News Center Maine’s reimagining of the incident, the students just happened to “discover” the substitute teacher’s TikTok account.
Thursday evening, several hours after the Maine Wire broke the story, the website associated with WCSH 6 posted the following:
On Thursday, school administration reportedly became aware that a TikTok account associated with a substitute teacher who has worked at King Middle School was discovered by students late Wednesday, according to a statement issued by Portland Public Schools.”
Whether the account “was discovered by students,” as News Center Maine reports, or shared by the substitute teacher may seem like a small detail, but the implications of the two versions are very different.
In News Center Maine’s version, the substitute teacher is almost the victim of bullying kids who Sherlocked up a personal social media account and harassed the teacher out of a job. The substitute is an adult who is free to post whatever they please on personal social media, afterall.
But if the account of a King Middle School student that was shared with Maine Wire is correct, then the teacher shared the Tiktok handle with the students, inviting them to explore the inappropriate content.
A reporter doesn’t need to trust only the testimony of a middle school student to cast doubt on News Center Maine’s version of the story.
If the outlet had investigated the story for themselves rather than simply relying on the statements of school officials, they would have determined, as the Maine Wire did, that the Tiktok handle in question was obscure, not affiliated with the substitute teacher’s real name, and therefore not easily discoverable using a search engine. The Maine Wire was only able to find the now-deleted social media account because the images and videos students downloaded contained the TikTok address.
It would have been virtually impossible for the students to have discovered the account without knowing the TikTok handle in advance. By far the most likely way students gained access to the account was because the account was shared with them.
For a reason that is not explained in the story, News Center Maine stealth edited their story to weaken their lead paragraph Friday morning. The story now reads:
“PORTLAND, Maine — A substitute teacher in at a school in Portland was dismissed after students are said to have accessed an associated TikTok account containing “potentially inappropriate content.”” (emphasis added)
Notice that whoever made the stealth edit failed to correct the obvious typo in the sentence.
Why is Channel 6 spinning the story this way?
One possible explanation is that their version of the story looks better for Portland school officials. In their version, no King Middle School employee, temporary or otherwise, did anything inappropriate or improper.
The story includes a quote from King Middle School Principal Caitlin LeClair which almost seems to imply that parents are to blame for the incident for not better controlling their children’s access to social media.
“This was an unfortunate incident that serves as a reminder of the importance of monitoring your child’s use of social media,” LeClair said, as quoted by News Center Maine.
For parents in the school district who are trusting school officials to ensure the physical and mental well-being of their children, the difference isn’t a small one.