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Media: The Washington Post's Wacky Montgomery County Coverage

Friday was Josh Starr's last day as head of the Montgomery County public schools.  He granted an interview to NPR -- but not to the Washington Post.   This forced the Post to run a bloggy writeup of the NPR interview over the weekend. You and I may not care, but in most cases a traditional news outlet like the Post would normally avoid publishing something like this on its regular news page, and would generally be loath to "follow" another news outlet with essentially duplicative coverage.

There's nothing really out of the ordinary about a district superintendent giving the cold shoulder to an outlet he or she perceives as having provided rough coverage of a tough situation.  Former DCPS head Michelle Rhee declined to give much help to the Washington Post during the last few months of her tenure, feeling that the coverage there had gone overboard with its criticism.  At a certain point, relations between beat reporters covering elected or appointed officials can get toxic even under the best of circumstances.  

But this is just the latest incident surrounding the Post's coverage of Montgomery County and Starr.  On January 27th, the paper's editorial page wrote about Starr's departure on the same day that the news came out on the education page.

That means the editorial page -- normally given to thoughtful analysis and commentary on news that's already been reported -- essentially scooped its own newsroom. I've heard estimates that there was a 12-hour gap, but I can't document such a thing.  There's no timestamp on Washington Post stories, however, the earliest comments I can find on the editorial page story come from that evening, around 8 pm and the earliest comments on the education version of the story come in a few hours later, just after midnight on the 28th. According to the Post's Bill Turque, the newsroom was only about 90 minutes behind, largely due to the newsroom's more stringent sourcing requirements.  

How does that happen, when the Post has both Donna St. George and Turque helping cover Montgomery County public schools? I have no idea.  Yes, nearly everyone seems to have been caught by surprise.  Sure, Twitter and the blogosphere beat newspapers to the punch all the time -- no fact-checking required on social media! -- but usually editorial pages don't beat their own newsrooms (or anyone else's really). They're usually not even close.  And ideally beat reporters hear and report things first, well before everyone else.  That's the whole point of beat reporting, or at least one of the main points. 

Anyway, I've asked some Post folks about the timing of the breaking news and will be happy to learn and share more about how it unfolded.  Anyone else have thoughts or insight into how the Post covered Starr, or the news of his departure, or whether any of it really matters?  Did this story in Bethesda Magazine precipitate or suggest what was to come, well in advance of the news breaking? Feel free to share information, theories, and insights here or on twitter. 

Related posts: Washington Post Doubles Down In National CoverageAbout That Front-Page Washington Post Story"Draft Sharing" Spreads At Washington Post Education TeamMichelle Rhee Vs. The Washington Post.


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The Washington Post editorial board has lost all credibility on public education. Joanne Armeo writes their education editorials and has for decades. She made the Post an uncritical cheerleader for Michelle Rhee, beating up on anyone who dared to question test driven reforms, even though the track record in DC is pretty mediocre. They are famous for unrelenting union bashing. Armeo wrote a personal op-ed advocating New Orleans as the model for DC Public Schools. In spite of that, the Post has had terrific reporters, most notably Emma Brown and Bill Turque, both of whom were conveniently moved off covering DC.

The Post has also always had it in for Montgomery County precisely because the district and the teachers union have had a close, collaborative working relationship. They really hate the union. During the first Iraq war, the Post had more editorials criticizing the Montgomery County Education Association than about the war in Iraq. The editorial board has just lost all perspective when it comes to teacher unions and can't get their head around the decision by both the union and the MCPS Administration to work closely and collaboratively together.

Which brings me to Josh Starr. More than any other superintendent in the country, Josh articulated an alternative approach to the test-driven route to reform that has had such a poor track record nationally. He advocated an emphasis on social-emotional and critical thinking skills. He articulated the vision Montgomery County wants. His interview with NPR offers insight into his leadership vision. The Post editors just couldn't stand it. When four BOE members indicated a month ago that they were not for giving Starr another four years, none of them explained that surprising decision as disagreement with his vision. They each had evidently different and private reasons.

But as for the Post editors, they were beside themselves. They couldn't bother to find out what it was all about. They were like kids about to explode with information about something bad about their nemesis.

Those of us who have had to put up with the embarrassment of the Post Editorial Board for years were not surprised.

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