The Heritage Foundation has launched what it describes as a “digital first, multimedia news platform” that will supplement the conservative think tank’s policy work. And one of the news site’s inaugural topics for sustained coverage is the Common Core State Standards.
The Daily Signal will be “accurate, fair, and trustworthy,” the site says. “We are dedicated to developing a news outlet that cuts straight to the heart of key political and policy arguments—not spin reported as news.”
Rob Bluey, the editor, said in an interview that “Heritage is a public policy organization based on research. A natural extension of that is the changing media landscape and figuring out how we best inform the American people about the issues we care about.”
Besides the common core, the Daily Signal’s other initial areas of coverage are, as the site puts it, “Obamacare,” “Benghazi,” and “cronyism.” That menu will vary eventually, Bluey said.
“The Common Core is the most researched term when it comes to policy issues on Heritage’s site,” said Bluey, who has worked as a journalist, but has been at the think tank the last seven years.
The Heritage Foundation does a fair amount of policy work in education, supporting school choice, promoting a reduced federal role, and raising questions about the common core standards.
The Daily Signal, though, will cover the common core and its other areas of focus with its own staff of reporters and editors, although the news site will carry commentary reflecting Heritage’s conservative viewpoints, Bluey said.
“We’ll be making a clear distinction on the site between news and commentary,” he said. “If you are reading a news story, you should expect the same journalistic standards as any other news organization.”
That last assertion is hard for some observers of journalism to accept at face value. The Heritage news site is the latest example of blurred lines between traditional news sites and policy groups offering journalism-type outlets.
Just in education, the RealClearEducation news aggregation site is jointly run by RealClearPolitics, which is regarded as a news site, and Bellwether Education Partners, the education consulting firm led by Andrew J. Rotherham. And the New American Foundation publishes EdCentral Education News.
“Heritage, like any organization, has a perfect right to produce information and commentary on education and on any other subject,” said Thomas Toch, a former education correspondent for U.S. News & World Report magazine and now the head of the Washington office of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “But people need to understand where it [such an information site] is on the ideological spectrum and recognize that it is undoubtedly going to have a point a view.”
Toch also notes that such a “news” site by a policy group is yet another example of the American public being “drawn to sources of information that they are inclined to agree with.”
“As a result, were getting a lot less dialogue,” he said. “We’re getting a lot more self-affirmation among people who are entrenched in their positions.”
A Trip to Indiana
Bluey said the Daily Signal evolved out of the Foundry, Heritage’s public policy blog. But the news site has hired a staff of about a dozen journalists, including TV reporters.
On its June 3 launch date, the Daily Signal posted two stories on the common core.
“Following Indiana’s lead, state legislatures in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Missouri have approved measures to exit and replace the national standards and tests known as Common Core,” says a story by Brittany Corona.
And in another story by Corona, she reports on a Pioneer Institute study that concludes the common core “does not prepare students for admission into highly selective four-year universities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.”
(That study was released last October by the free market-oriented Pioneer, based in Boston.)
Bluey pointed to a March story, which appeared on the Foundry but is the type of enterprising coverage of the common core that the Daily Signal will do more of, he said.
“Alicia Cohn, a reporter of ours, told us we should be paying attention to [the common core in] Indiana,” he said. Heritage sent Cohn to the state for an extensive report on how the common core standards were faring. It appeared just before Gov. Mike Pence signed a measure to reverse the state’s adoption of the standards.
Cohn’s report is heavy on quotes from common core critics and skeptics, including a Heritage Foundation analyst. It also appears to lack any substantive comments from a common core supporter, although Cohn did unsuccessfully seek out former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, both of whom had worked to implement the Common Core standards in Indiana.
It seems to me that a site such as The Daily Signal will simply cater to its ideological audience if it keeps up a steady stream of “news” reports that confirm that audience’s critical views of the common core or Obamacare. But the site could confound critics and gain some credibility if it runs reports that at least occasionally go against the grain and find something to like about its targets.
All we have to do is look for the signals right there on the Web page.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.