Journalism and Schools: Two Sides to Every Story

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To the Editor:

We are shocked that Gina Burkhardt, the president of Learning Point Associates, and Richard Lee Colvin, the director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media (an organization whose mission is “to promote fair, accurate, and insightful coverage of education”), would encourage a journalistic approach to education reporting that fosters one-sided, and no doubt self-congratulatory, talking points ("Telling the Story of School Reform," Commentary, Oct. 29, 2008). Yes, superintendents should be allowed to tell their stories to the press. But journalists owe the public a comprehensive and critical analysis of those stories. Unfortunately, the authors appear to have forsaken that caveat.

Furthermore, for them to support New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein in his assertion that he hasn’t been able to tell his story successfully because “other people” have used “very sophisticated media machines” is shameful, not to mention an unexamined acceptance of Mr. Klein’s story. The New York City Department of Education’s public relations office is legendary both for its effectiveness and its size, which Mr. Klein has increased under his tenure. Moreover, the chancellor has attempted to employ intimidation techniques to silence his critics, who include education historian and Education Week blogger Diane Ravitch.

In this hostile atmosphere, principals and teachers will not talk to the press out of fear of reprisal, since those who have been brave enough to do so have been humiliated and threatened.

As we all know, there are at least two sides to every story. For the sake of our schools, I urge education journalists to ignore Ms. Burkhardt and Mr. Colvin’s advice and examine all of them, so that we may truly have “fair, accurate, and insightful coverage.”

Jane Hirschmann
Time Out From Testing
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I laughed in disbelief at “Telling the Story of School Reform.” The description of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein bemoaning a supposedly inadequate communications strategy is ludicrous. The city’s education department has spent millions, and funneled millions more in private dollars, in a ceaseless media campaign to buy public support for its supposed reforms, backed by suspect data that many observers—including Education Week bloggers Jennifer Booher-Jennings ("eduwonkette") and Diane Ravitch—have debunked. It has successfully spun press reports, allegedly spied on opponents (including Ms. Ravitch), and recently killed a negative New York Daily News story, according to reports, by interceding with its publisher after editorial approval.

Please spare us the crocodile tears. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have brought Orwellian tactics to public discourse over New York City’s schools. If districts are to tell stories of reform, they should be true and responsible to public, rather than political, interests.

David C. Bloomfield
Program Head, Educational Leadership
City University of New York Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Vol. 28, Issue 14, Page 32

Published in Print: December 3, 2008, as Journalism and Schools:Two Sides to Every Story
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