Monday, March 14, 2011

A new way for school districts to mess with journalists.

So in Springfield, Missouri, according to the News-Leader, school district folks are taping interviews by local reporters and putting out their own reports on those interviews, before the journalists’ stories appear. I am not sure that is how Springfield parents really want their school dollars to be spent, and I am certain that won’t help them understand what is happening with their children’s education. Also, it is obnoxious. Transparency is an ongoing problem with the district, journalists there say, and the primacy officials place on ensuring a “consistent message” creeps me out, though it doesn’t surprise me.

It is my last week as the public editor at EWA, and it is safe to say that the one thing I regret above all is that I have not done enough to bring light to the ways school systems attempt to keep journalists and, more important, citizens in the dark. They are shutting down access to classrooms, saying visits are disruptive. (Teachers and children are used to all sorts of observers coming in and out of schools, and good journalists are not disruptive anyway.) They are banning employees from speaking to the media in any way, shape or form, and prefer they not talk to anyone else, either.

Obviously journalists care about this. Does it bug anyone else?


  1. What's wrong with recording a recorded interview? Journalists (especially in midsize markets) often cherrypick to create controversy where none exists, or condense a thirty-minute conversation into a 5-second soundbite designed to further whatever narrative the reporter is seeking.

    I wish that journalists would post their own raw data, but I see no problem with the district doing it.

  2. Putting their own versions of events out there is fine, but limiting reporters' access to classrooms is totally unacceptable.

  3. Jeremy, recording interviews is fine. After a piece is published, I could see an official saying, "Hey, to clarify, the whole quote I said was...." Attempting to cut off the journalist, and journalism, at her knees by releasing their own version of the conversation before the story is reported is slimy.

  4. But how would the hypothetical official clarify? I've noticed that my former newsroom colleagues deeply believe that sources and the general public have ample access to respond via letters to the editor and op-eds, but that's just not true. Only a small percentage of submissions make it into print. (Even those same colleagues agree that a post in the comments in the online version isn't going to reach the readers.)

  5. I believe self-defense against inaccurate reporting is a learned response that comes from experience. News staff assigned to education are unfortunately short-handed, inexperienced, and often lack the necessary depth of field. In our region, this more often than not results in reporting that creates heat but no light. Retractions and corrections? -- days later and buried at the bottom, if they occur at all.