Funding Sources & Conflicts Of Interest
I think that there might be some lessons for education from Sunday's big NYT article about how the Pentagon cultivated relationships with military analysts -- and how the broadcast media used them as experts without revealing conflicts or vetting them before they went on the air (Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand). While the article focused on the Pentagon's nefarious efforts, many who read the piece were struck by the loose thinking and lax oversight on the journalism side. How and why did the networks put these folks on the air as independent experts?
I don't know of any similar USDE plot to manipulate the news (at least, not currently). But I do see an awful lot of expert quoting that raises questions for me.
For one, education reporters tend to ID expert sources by organization or previous work experience, not by their current sources of support. Readers (and reporters) should know who the quoted experts are being paid by -- often foundations with a particular perspective -- but they often don't. It's not that hard to find out who someone's main funders are. Second, there's a point at which disclosure of conflicts of interest stops working as an effective signal for readers about where an expert source is coming from. There's no clear cut rule for how many conflicts of interest is too many, but at some point reporters (or their editors) need to consider pulling the plug. This doesn't seem to happen very much, however.
Education insiders can be great sources, but readers should be told where the money is coming from, and journalists should reveal conflicts or consider other options when their sources can't realistically function as independent observers. It's not that hard, but few folks seem to do it.