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UPDATE 2/9: These stats (and thus the rest of the post) are all wrong. To see why, check here: It's OK To Call Rotherham

A friend who used to work at EdWeek commented in response to my post about alleged overuse of Checker Finn as a source that Rick Hess might have replaced Finn as the most over-quoted source on standards policy in Education Week these days.

Indeed that may be right. A quick search shows that Hess's name shows up 38 times in the past year, while Finn only shows up 29 times (including all mentions).

But neither Finn nor Hess are anywhere near the top of the list, which is topped by an education pundit with 170 mentions -- more than four times as many as Hess. This raises the question, are Education Week and the rest of the education beat calling one phone number a little too much? Or, is there nothing really wrong with calling the same person all the time?


The original post described a recent letter to the editors at EdWeek calling them out for unbalanced sourcing (in favor of nationwide testing) and overuse of Checker Finn: Letter Questions EdWeek's Sourcing ... And Overuse of Checker Finn.

Added to that came a comment from former EdWeek writer that it's hard for journalists to avoid calling the same people over and over: "When I was at Education Week, people accused me of quoting Checker Finn too often. It was hard to avoid--he was a major figure, he was knowledgeable, he had opinions about everything, and he gave good quote, as they say."

Of course, EdWeek isn't alone in this -- and journalists aren't alone in encouraging the use of a particular source. Sources themselves play an important role, based on how available they are, how quickly they call back, how often (if ever) they suggest other sources, and how able they are at figuring out what the journalists who call them are looking for. (An understandably impatient Kati Haycock once said to me, "Have I said what you need me to say yet, or do you need me to keep going?")

But it isn't Rick Hess who's replaced Checker Finn as the most-mentioned name in Edweek. And it isn't Haycock or Wilkins or "Education Trust," who get a lot of media attention and I thought might top the list. It's Eduwonk/Education Sector Andy Rotherham,

Rotherham is the king of quotes and mentions, in EdWeek at least. (Someone with access to NEXIS can do their own research.) As the list below shows, in terms of over-all mentions, Rotherham kills eveyrone else I can think of, and comes in not far behind Margaret Spellings and NCLB.

NCLB: 282
Margaret Spellings: 222
Andrew Rotherham: 170
Education Trust: 77
Gates Foundation: 69
Ted Kennedy: 47
Diane Ravitch: 27
Amy Wilkens: 23
Kati Haycock: 18
FairTest: 6

It's not hard to guess why reporters call Rotherham so much. And there may not even be anything wrong with it. He is a savvy, knowledgeable, centrist voice on a wide variety of issues. But he's certainly not the only one.

Nest installment: great and underused Washington policy sources


Anonymous o/b/o matt pinzur said...

You can definitely overuse sources, especially when multiple reporters at one paper find someone who's both knowledgeable and quote-worthy. The Herald imposed unofficial bans on two Florida political science professors who must have been quoted 2 or 3 times PER DAY in the biggest 5-6 Florida newspapers during the 2000 elections.

From a news standpoint, it hinges too much coverage on a single person's perspective.
From a newsroom standpoint, it's just eerie and a little lazy.

That being said, it's rough when you're covering a beat that simply doesn't have many experts. When I was the political reporter in Jacksonville, there were no more than a handful of lobbyist/pollster/consultant folks (and only one or two local academics) who followed the local political scene closely enough to be viable sources for stories. When election times rolled around, practically all of them were working for one candidate or another, essentially erasing the pool of quasi-independent voices. But that also taught me how to write with more authority - not every story needs an expert, especially not just one who regurgitates something that's obvious.


Received from Matthew I. Pinzur
Lead Education Reporter
The Miami Herald

3:14 PM  
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12:15 PM  

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