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MEDIA: What Education Journalists Should Be Doing

This could be a high point for education journalists – especially those in DC, Chicago, and the Bay Area.  And yet there's a striking lack of any real education reporting ab0ut the current EdSec mystery going on in the papers and other outlets right now. 

2007_06_askchicagoAs far as we the public can tell, no one’s really scrutinizing the various claims made against Linda Darling Hammond, or her record on charters and accountability.  How is she to work with?  What has she done or not done outside of criticizing TFA?  Even more troubling is that there’s been no in-depth examination of what Arne Duncan has and hasn’t accomplished with Chicago’s school system. Are test scores up?  What kinds of innovation has come out of Chicago. 

Do your jobs, reporters and editors.  Bug someone who was on the working committee into talking to you, or report that they won’t. Track down Wendy Kopp and ask her straight out what she thinks about Darling-Hammond or Duncan (or Rhee, for that matter).  Look up campaign donation records and tell us what you find. FOIA some shit.  Sending out a few emails and rehashing tired claims or old speeches just doesn’t cut it. 


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The reason why there's "a striking lack of any real education reporting ab0ut the current EdSec mystery" is that nobody, outside of DC, gives a rat's patootie about the "current EdSec mystery."

How many newspapers outside of USAT and the NYT even have national education correspondents anymore? Why would any newspaper, given the state of the industry, divert local resources to a story nobody locally would care enough to read?

One first-hand example: When I joined the reporting staff of the Dallas Morning News 5 years ago, we have no fewer than 24 reporters and editors covering education. Today, that number is down to 9, and all of us are focused on local districts, providing local news to our local readers about local issues. Hell, Spellings -- a Texan! -- could come to Dallas tomorrow to make a speech and we probably wouldn't even cover it.

This pundit-driven game of "Who's going to be the next Secretary of Whatever" is of interest only to wonks and those who watch these things in DC. Maybe bloggers like you could help fill the void? Why don't you, as you say, "FOIA some shit?" and tell us what you find?

As further proof of what reporters in the real world are dealing with, I direct your attention:


sorry i didn't make it clear that the main thrust of my post was about the national press outlets.

but there's real reporting to be done,-- whether or not you're in dc -- especially if one of the contenders is in your back yard or if choice A would affect your main district differently than choice B.

reasonable people can disagree but i'd argue that who's going to be the next education secretary is worth covering, and wouldn't be such a parlor game if

here's some new coverage from AP's libby quaid in which gov. sebelius takes herself out of the running. no reason that has to come from her, is there?


sorry things are so hard in the newsroom these days, but the best argument for protecting reporters' jobs is.... doing more and better reporting.

If my comment sounded defensive it's because, well, I am defensive. While I apologize for my tone, the reality remains ...

While I do agree that the next EdSec is/was a story worth covering, the new reality is that it no longer is, at least not for those of us at the big regional papers that used to help pull this kind of freight. We're in survival mode out here, and all efforts are on our local issues.

Imagine the scenario I laid out (24 school reporters in 2003 down to 9 today at the DMN) and multiply those kinds of job losses across the 100 biggest papers in the country. I think we've got to get used to the fact that we're going to continue to see substantially less (and more superficial) education coverage as a result. The education press just doesn't have the bodies it used to have, our employers don't have the $$ they used to have, and those of us left on the beat are fleeing (or trying to flee) to safer harbors.

I was serious when I suggested that bloggers fill the void, because the dearth of national education coverage is only going to get, well, dearthier.

I have to agree with Kent. I don't think most people in the non-Beltway world care too much about the parlor game of who's going to be the next education secy. That's not to say that Chicago area reporters should not report on the Arne Duncan angle to this story, but to just write ad nauseum about who might get selected is not only impossible given the current crisis in newsrooms, but also plain boring! The Chicago Tribune, which just filed for bankruptcy protection today, is down to one education reporter in the main newsroom. 18 months ago, we had five.

I guess I fail to see why bloggers, who want to be seen as journalists, can't do some reporting on their own. A blogger, for example, has the same ability to FOIA, the same ability to pick up the phone and call sources. Am I to understand that blogging means simply taking other people's work? Can't bloggers also be reporters? Maybe I am missing something here?

Stephanie Banchero

Part of the problem is that national commentators relish the the fight between the "reformers" and the "establishment." That's a compelling story line, especially at a time when the Obama administration offers few other fights to follow.

Deeper research into the different figures in that morality play would muddy the story line, reveal the complexity of the issues, broaden the list of potential reforms, and render it more difficult to separate "reformers" from "establishment."

And that's just no fun.

thanks to everyone for reading and commenting about this, here and elsewhere --

i'd like to note the strangeness of fulltime education reporters calling for part time bloggers to do more or better reporting.

i'd also like to point out that blogs often DO break news or offer tidbits but rarely dig deeper in a journalistic way -- a flaw that i have pointed out several times in the past.

hate me for saying this but does anyone else think that 9 education reporters, much less 24, is still a lot of firepower for a single paper to have on staff?

as to the issue of whether the next education secretary is important or not, i would argue that it is and that there's a lot of room for reporting -- not rehashing -- to help readers find out who may get the job and what their selection might mean.

it's only a parlor game unless there's no news dug up -- which is the situation we seem to be in now, and why i wrote the original post.

"hate me for saying this but does anyone else think that 9 education reporters, much less 24, is still a lot of firepower for a single paper to have on staff?"

I don't hate you Alex. We're buds! And yes it is a lot of firepower ... until you realize that 3 of those 9 bodies are editors, and 1 is a higher ed writer, leaving 5 reporters assigned to the +50 school districts that reside within the Morning News' circulation area. (I also learned shortly after this conversation started that my editor is leaving the biz at the end of the month, so what was 9 bodies at the DMN this morn is now 8. See how quickly the sand shifts?)

And as I stated in my first comment ... the focus of newsrooms today is ENTIRELY local news. I can't imagine going to an editor and pitching a story about who the new education czar is going to be. IF my editor didn't laugh in my face, I MIGHT get MAYBE 1 day off my assigned beat to turn the story around. We no longer have the luxury of embarking on week-long fishing expeditions for stories with a tenuous local angle, or for stories that might not pan out at all. Why wouldn't I instead push for a day off to pursue a story that was actually interesting and had some local impact?

I don't think folks outside the newspaper biz really understand the decimating, fundamental shifts that have rocked newsrooms over the last 18 months. Ten years ago, Alex, I would have agreed with your initial assessment. Today, notsomuch.

No one said that the issue of who will be the next education secy is unimportant, Alex!

What we are saying is the parlor game/ horse race style of reporting is so far from what readers want or need. Yes, mainstream media AND bloggers (part-time or not.) should be doing more and better reporting on Arne Duncan's record and LDH's "record." But this echo chamber of people guessing w/o any real knowledge seems a colossal waste of time.

I guess I simply don't understand why a blogger would call on other reporters to do the work that he/she could do by him/herself. If you think something is missing in the coverage of this issue, then go report it! More power to you, my friend.

Stephanie Banchero
Chicago Tribune
Education Reporter

This is an interesting piece, and I am always in favor of journalists in any area "doing their jobs". And I love the "FOIA some shit" line. For my own two cents in this debate, I feel that education journalists should be taken just as seriously as journalists in other field, but they aren't. The reason it doesn't is that, sadly, education in general doesn't get taken as seriously as an issue as it should be. This is not to say that there aren't issues just as important, and even more important, than education (i.e. the economy, war) But if we valued education as much as we should, we would see just as much speculation about Education Secretary as we do about Secretary of State, Defense, and Treasury. Instead, the speculation is left to us who are wonks, experts, and education bloggers/journalists.


Selecting a Secretary of Education is quickly being re-framed by competing ideas of accountability and the future of education. With that has come a rush to label ideas as either "reform" or "establishment" (see Brooks, 12/5/08). Such steps are in stark contrast to the Barack Obama's candidacy, which was built on a platform of inclusion -- moving beyond stale and divisive ideologies and finding common ground. The values at the core are equity, opportunity and possibility for all children. The re-authorization of NCLB and economic challenges ahead make it imperative that we reaffirm three core values in supporting educational reform:

* the holistic development of all children (not just reading/language arts and math standardized test scores);

* deep and extensive educator preparation and in-service staff development; and

* the development and support of entire organic communities that support quality teaching and learning, not the disenfranchisement of many to make way for quick structural reforms.

We believe that David Brooks has it exactly backward in referring to Joel Klein as an exponent of reform and Linda Darling-Hammond as representing the establishment. We strongly support the policy platforms of educators like Linda Darling-Hammond who have worked throughout their careers for policies and reforms built on the above core values. We welcome the day when these core values and approaches would actually be the "establishment" rather than solely the option of a select few.

I don't live in DC, but am very interested in the EdSec debate. Why? I am a parent of NYC public school children and think Klein is a disaster. I am very nervous that he or someone of his ilk will be visited upon the whole country.

I also find the Trib reporter's comments interesting b/c the Trib had that article in which the labels of reform and establishment were bandied about with as little skepticism as they were accorded by David Brooks. I do think it is an education reporter's job to point out that the "reformers" gave themselves this label and that others dispute it. To do otherwise, merely replicates the propaganda of the so-called reformers' PR machines. You are supposed to do something other than parrot press releases, right?

And I think the Texas reporter might give at least some of his readers credit for wanting to know things outside their own narrow sphere. Or maybe, like my parents, all those interested in a less parochial worldview left the state already.

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