School & District Management Opinion

How WOULD a Journalist Cover Education Nation?

By Anthony Cody — September 23, 2010 3 min read
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First of all, yesterday I posted about the Education Nation Facebook page. After taking a public relations beating for blocking me and a number of other parents and teachers from the site, the administrator has now allowed us all to post, and the site is full of lively discussion. Very refreshing! It is a model for what the Education Nation programming could have been, had NBC actually had some guts.

Here is what NBC News President Steve Capus had to say yesterday at his press conference defending their Education Nation programming from criticism that it is one-sided and lacking in the participation of classroom teachers;

NBC News [personnel] are not the experts in this place. ...the role of a news organization is to put a spotlight on these issues/challenges, and on the people who are doing incredibly strong work to try to affect change. The news division's involvement begins and ends with that spotlight. We're not coming at this from a policy angle.

Truly flabbergasting. NBC News has no experts on education policy. According to the material on their Education Nation website, “Education is key to the success of our country...” Education is “one of the most pressing national issues of our time.” Yet this multi-million dollar news organization has nobody on their staff they consider to be expert in this crucial field? If this issue is indeed key to our success, shouldn’t they have some expertise - especially if they are going to sponsor a week of programming on the subject?

Secondly, what is the role of a news organization? I thought the role of a news organization was to investigate and uncover the truth, and share it with the public. In the case of an issue where there is a real controversy, such as education policy in America, a news organization ought to give a balanced presentation of the controversy, with competing perspectives represented by the most reputable and respected advocates available. In this case, NBC seems to be pleading ignorance to the fact that there is another point of view - which they have conveniently omitted. (See the analyses by teacherken here and here to understand exactly who is represented.)

Many of the people that will be featured on Education Nation are doing incredible work, and the unfortunate thing is that by failing to allow a true dialogue, NBC has cast a pall over the whole event, which does a disservice to the work we should all join in celebrating. The point is not to condemn the hard work that has been done, or even the perspectives that will emerge through this programming. The trouble is that an opportunity for genuine dialogue has been lost, and NBC has done us all a disservice in their approach to this.

I am not a working journalist, but if I were, here are some of the questions I would ask Mr. Capus to answer.

1. Why is your spotlight only shining on people representing one point of view in an arena where there are clearly divergent approaches? Does not a dialogue require more than one perspective from a controversy to be represented?

2. Major civil rights organizations recently released a statement formally criticizing Race to the Top and the extension of NCLB-type policies by the Department of Education. Is this perspective represented?

3. What does it mean to say “We are not coming at this from a policy angle”? How can we discuss the future of education in America without a robust discussion of education policy?

4. What was the role of the Department of Education in the process of organizing this event? What role did they play in the selection of speakers?

5. According to the calculations of Sabrina Stevens-Shupe, only 13% of the attendees (not even speakers) are practicing teachers. As Sabrina pointedly asks, “We’re important enough to merit 100% of the accountability for students, but not important enough to merit more than 13% of the national conversation about education?”

I have not seen the full coverage of yesterday’s press conference, so I do not know if any of these sorts of questions were asked. I imagine NBC is reading my blog this week. Mr. Capus, could you answer my questions please?

Update: Thirty-six hours have passed since I posted this. It is now the “featured blog post” on Teacher Magazine and has been read by more than 1,000 people. Still no reply from Mr. Capus or NBC News.

What do you think the role of a news organization should be? Should we be happy with the welcome teachers have received at Education Nation?

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The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.