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EDSEC: Reform Lite, Meet Journalism Lite

Tnr_logo_960_bigger Everyone's in a big rush to say that Duncan was inevitable.  Tell that to the folks who were calling me last week wondering if it was going to be Linda Darling Hammond.  Everyone's saying that Duncan is a great unifier, even though Duncan worked in a one-party town with a powerful political patron and hardly ever had to compromise with anyone.  The "broader, bolder" types in Chicago wouldn't say he bridged many gaps with them. 

Tnr_logo_960_biggerAlong comes TNR.com's Seyward Darby, the latest entrant on the education beat, who's kind enough to reference some of my thoughts and good enough of a journalist to make some calls on her own -- but then seemingly bases her argument in support of Duncan entirely on quotes from allies and insiders.

Tnr_logo_960_biggerExamples include (a) Tim Cawley of AUSL, the teacher training turned turnaround shop that CPS has been relying on (and paying) for the last few years, and (b) an unnamed "education expert close to the transition" whom Darby seems to be quoting in recent posts.   Big mystery what these two had to say about their guy.

Tnr_logo_960_biggerI know this is online journalism on a fast-moving story, but how about finding a Duncan critic or opponent who says some moderate or nuanced things? That would be newsworthy.  How about avoiding blind quotes from sources whose interests are likely not focused informing readers?  That would be good, too. 

Tnr_logo_960_biggerIdentifying sources and letting readers decided whether to trust them or not isn't enough, I don't think. You've got to quote folks who aren't all from one side and aren't saying things that are obviously self-serving. 

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Darby is a reporter-researcher (i.e. underpaid intern), and very new to the beat. Cut her some slack.

"Identifying sources and letting readers decided [sic] whether to trust them or not isn't enough, I don't think. "

You cited two specific examples above - only one of which was an unnamed source. I'm not a stickler on stats, but an n of 1 is small.

If she spellchecks and proofs, it's a step up.

"You've got to quote folks who aren't all from one side and aren't saying things that are obviously self-serving."

Again, tiny sample size. If you've got a stronger case, make it.

The real reason I'm giving you a hard time about this is:

"Everyone's saying that Duncan is a great unifier, even though Duncan worked in a one-party town with a powerful political patron and hardly ever had to compromise with anyone."

That you'd have the gall to make a statement like "Everyone's saying Duncan is a great unifier" and then rip on a colleague for his/her failure to report on or interview more than one side of a story is ironic. Get thee to some Conservative media, Mr. Russo - you may find that not "[e]veryone" is saying those things. Dare I say you could use some exposure to those other perspectives?

Heal thyself, Russo - or at least stay ill more quietly. Ms. Darby deserves an apology.

So does Scholastic, for that matter.

thanks for the comments -- great to hear your opinions.

if darby is good enough for the new republic, then she's good enough for me. don't condescend to her just because she's young.

as to matt's comment, again i think this might be false gallantry.

there are only two sources cited, so my sample size is necessarily small.

the press is full of quotes hyping duncan's heroic abilities -- several recent posts include them.

i think you mean hypocritical or unfair, not ironic. but i'm pointing that out with irony.

The TNR reporter-researcher position is primarily a mentoring arrangement; the program trains participants to factcheck and to write short commentary. The current TNR staff does not have too many editors who regularly engage the education policy beat, either (Jon Chait is a notable exception). Given the practical limitations of Darby's job, her choice of sources is unsurprising. That's not condescending to her, that's an attempt to point out that she is blogging for and with the help of an audience whose opinion on the edsec pick is largely in one camp.

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