Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Everything that’s wrong with us, Part One.

I usually am not big on think tank panel discussions, but today’s Brookings event on the purported decline of education journalism could not have been more in my wheelhouse. To have missed it would have been like Lindsay Lohan telling Tara Reid that no, thank you, she doesn’t feel like joining her for an absinthe binge in her hotel room.

Part of my job is helping reporters analyze research reports. If somebody came to me about this one, I would have had lots of questions about how it was conducted. The conclusion that 1.4 percent of “news coverage” over nine months this year dealt with education was based on an analysis that counted Rush Limbaugh (how dare he not delve more meaningfully into curriculum theory!) but ignored all newspaper stories that were not on A1. I loved that my former colleague E.J. Dionne said “Linda is an excellent methodologist” when I asked about that—it’s the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in weeks—but I disagree with his and Russ Whitehurst’s responses that the A1-only calculus shouldn’t have skewed results.

That said. That particular factoid was not interesting to me. I did love the chart that broke down education coverage by topic. As much on hugging as on teacher training! More on swine flu than on ... almost anything! I could have done without at least 70 percent of the stories written this year about swine flu and Obama’s speech to schoolchildren (don’t ask for my methodology on that), so I think a lot of what the authors talk about in terms of coverage priorities is worth thinking about.  

More tomorrow. Right now it’s home to read the ever-thinning paper.


  1. During my last year at the Dallas Morning News I had something like 24 bylines on 1A, yet wrote over 250 articles and blog posts (I'm going from memory here, so don't hold me to those numbers.) According to the study's metrics, the researchers would have been blind to 90 percent of my output. To say that wouldn't skew the results is ridiculous. Basically what they did is ignore every paper's Metro/Local sections where, I'd bet, most school coverage gets its play.

    What it shows me is that the researchers were too lazy to undertake a full accounting of education coverage and opted for what was easy ... Hmmmm, let's just search Lexis for the word "school" and "1A"... and here they are criticizing reporters for failing to dig deep! Sheesh.

  2. I am a sharp critic of much mainstream media education coverage, but this study is just nonsense. The issues are depth, quality and perceptiveness, not quantity.

    A major peeve is the "it's a miracle!" puff piece about this or that charter-school hustle, and wily charter operators have taken to peddling their PR to non-education reporters who will swallow them whole and have no idea what questions to ask. (I'm calling out San Francisco's conniving Envision Schools charter operator and gullible San Francisco Chronicle columnists Chip Johnson and C.W. Nevius here -- and don't even get me started again on KIPP and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and his teacher-bashing.)

    If more education coverage means more uninformed, clueless, and misleading education coverage -- more magical-thinking charter-school puffery and teacher-bashing -- please give us LESS!

  3. Linda,

    After rereading the report I think the authors buried the lead. The 1.4 percent figure might generate headlines, but the real story is the case studies at the end. The four they selected--The Providence Journal, the Des Moines Register, the Arizona Republic, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune--use the web skillfully to provide substantial--and substantive--education coverage. And as Kent Fischer points out, they are not alone and there are probably more now that newspapers are focusing locally. Yeah, maybe there's less coverage of Obama and Duncan, but after what happened with Obama's speech to schoolchildren, do we want more of that? As for national context, that's what you're there for.