12/20/2005

Is Daily Education Coverage a "Closed Conversation"?

A new report from a pro-choice Virginia watchdog group suggests that there are some serious weaknesses in mainstream education reporting, especially when it comes to daily newspapers. Claiming that newspaper reporters are basically too close to bureaucratic sources and those with vested interests, the report suggests that "readers would have to look long and hard to find the larger education story in their daily newspapers."

Are these problems as serious as the report suggests, and what can be done about them?

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The study is based on telephone surveys of education print reporters and analysis of 403 education-related articles published over eight months by four daily news publishers in Virginia -- not the most comprehensive sample, but still worth looking at.

Its main findings (via EducationNews.org) are that newspapers rely on the public school industry to set the education news agenda, with nearly two of three stories being triggered by a press release from state, federal, or local officials. This is the "closed conversation" that leaves out key stakeholders and nontraditional approaches (charters, tax credits, and vouchers among them).

Nearly two thirds of the pieces reviewed related to topics of foremost interest to the public school industry, namely public school funding, public school staffing, and public school wage and benefit proposals. Almost all of the sources cited in all articles were government/public school-affiliated sources, prompting the report authors to compare education journalists to "embedded" reporters seeing things through the eyes of their immediate sources.

To be sure, it's possible that these findings are exaggerated. Some of the language is over the top, and I don't know the group that put this report out. I haven't talked to the reporters who were interviewed.

But you don't have to like the organization to pay attention to the report. Indeed, some of the basic points made have a general ring of truth to them. As I have noted before, finding good sources outside the education bureaucracy (and on deadline) is difficult and perhaps foreign to many reporters. Interested and informed outside sources are hard to find, compared to individuals and organizations with an organized media/outreach capacity (or with a vested interest).

What can daily reporters do? For a start, be sure to talk to outsiders for their perspective -- watchdogs, researchers, budget folks, citizens' groups, parents at the Little League game. Just as important, don't rely on education insiders for their views on innovations that would affect them negatively (or at least identify the vested interests).

2 Comments:

Blogger Caroline said...

Since this study was made by an advocacy group, it has no credibility. And frankly, it's horsepucky.

The gushing over "school choice" options by the MSM over the years -- the uncritical coverage and gullible, unquestioning acceptance of any claims made by the very forces who made that "study" -- goes beyond just being an embarrassment to the press.

To me, that gushfest is emblematic of the very reasons the press is in such hot water right now.

I could spend all day compiling examples, but here's one off the top of my head: in the current Newsweek, Jonathan Alter's clueless fawning over the potential for charter schools to take over the New Orleans schools as the city is rebuilt.

I'm a parent on the ground in a school district with a number of charter schools. There's no basis for believing that charter schools can do anything to rescue New Orleans schools or any other schools, no matter what the think-tankers claim. That doesn't stop Alter from believing it.

Check out the fawning coverage of Edison Schools back in 2001, and of KIPP and other chains today. Those charter/voucher/privatization folks should be showering the MSM with gratitude for being so gullible and easily led. It's the actual children of America, the victims of these scams, who should be criticizing the press.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Online Degree said...

Very interesting.... this is one of those topics that can easily spark some heated debate, so I'll refrain from giving my opinion other than to say that it is something to think about.

1:48 AM  

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