Monday, July 11, 2011

Broad and the media

The influence of the Broad Foundation on public education is a hot topic in Charlotte,  and may draw even more debate as the superintendent search gears up.  So it seems like a good time to visit a question that bubbled up  in the spring:  Does the foundation that's striving to reshape urban education also influence the way reporters cover education?

A "Broad virus" blog that's gone viral in education circles suggests that one sign of "infection" is local newspapers and public radio stations short-changing controversy about Broad-endorsed reforms.  When I was on vacation in May,  "Joe Teacher" emailed to say he'd heard an announcement that Charlotte's WFAE  is sponsored by the Broad Superintendents Academy,  which trains candidates to lead urban districts.  "Is there any way to tell if Mr. Broad is donating to other local radio?"  he asked.

I heard the announcement shortly afterward,  and the academy actually sponsors NPR,  not the local station. WFAE News Director Greg Collard confirmed that,  but said the NPR sponsorship announcement once landed right after a story about teacher performance pay by WFAE reporter Lisa Miller.  "Bad timing," Collard said.

That got me thinking about a comment Broad's Erica Lepping had made during a Charlotte visit,  mentioning earlier grants to the Education Writers Association and the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media.  I asked her for more information and she said yes,  in past years the foundation has given  "small grants" to both EWA (which I'm a member of) and Hechinger ("we used to fund a few Hechinger workshops for journalists, at least one of which I believe you attended").

Says Lepping:   Each of these organizations sends us proposals every year, as do many other media outlets (e.g. radio stations) that we have not funded to date.  Our foundation rarely funds these types of efforts –  we typically stick to investing directly in efforts to dramatically improve public schools.  During the recession when our endowment decreased,  we stopped doing any media grants, in order to focus all dollars directly to school districts and ed orgs.

As you may know,  Hechinger,  Ed Week and EWA are now all much more reliant on philanthropic funding than they were in the past,  given changes in business plan models and newsrooms under the recession,  so I expect they will continue to seek funding from all the foundations going forward.

However,  in any case where we have funded media orgs,  we have never required particular content/messages to be adopted as a result.  So,  for example,  when we funded an Ed Week series 8 years ago on Leadership,  decisions regarding what leaders to write about,  sources,  story angles et al were entirely up to Ed Week (same with the old Hechinger workshops).  In other words,  we do not get involved in editorial decisions.  When we have made a grant for ed journalism,  we trusted that those particular grantee orgs and their leaders would (given their strong reputations and track records) deliver high quality journalism that helps readers critically think,  provides facts and multiple perspectives and make up their own minds.

Interesting!  I can attest that when I've gone to education-reporting workshops,  there are panels of speakers representing various views,  with an audience of journalists who are quick to pick apart spin and question the diversity on panels.  I've never been sent home with a "write about this" mandate,  though organizers sometimes ask us to report back on what we learned and send links to articles where we've used the info.

It's smart to keep an eye on how the financial picture affects reporting.  It's no secret that money is tight these days,  and if reporters go to conferences,  it's often because someone else is footing the bill.  Journalists' organizations also feel the pinch.  And, yes, newspapers are certainly looking for ways to raise revenue in an extraordinarily challenging business environment (see Editor Rick Thames' column on one such avenue).

My take:  The best defense against anyone "selling out" is the vigilance and openness of those who care about journalistic integrity.


Larry said...

Why the, we are proving we are fair and balanced in our reporting Ann?

This has been going on for a few stories on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Don't often agree with Larry, but I've been noticing the same thing. Could it be that "The lady doth protest too much"?

Wiley Coyote said...

I wonder if journalistic integrity is any different than data integrity.

Both can be spun to tell any story you want to tell.

I'll have to ponder on this...

Anonymous said...

Ann-Eric, Pardon my critic...Thank you for the link, but...REPORT for goodness sake, Report, darn-it. Investigate for yourselves. Do what you both do best...keep CMS on their toes and accountable to us.
Report on each of the "points" of how can you tell if CMS has the "Broad Infection".
Push the BOE for answers. Don't apologize and defend. It is obviious from all of the postings that you both are doing a good job. Heck we are on here all the time.
Just REPORT..good luck though..and stay above the fray!

Anonymous said...

I know it is hard when their are two organizations trying to bend your ear and spin facts in two different ways. And, there is inertia toward keeping things the way they are and have been. I know there is a camp that wants to continue to do things the same way with just lobbying for more money using the same facilities, same teachers, etc. But, thanks for keeping an open mind to innovative ideas that would fundamentally change how we teach. There is a sea change coming in education. This threatens many people.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps The Observer got a little too carried away this past spring with their critique of school policy that so closely resembled the talking points of Parents Across America (with their ties to NEA) and their local cohort Meck ACTS. Reporters were correct to examine the policy, but I believe the paper was at fault in relying too much on one particular source. This does not lead to openness--it leads to distrust, which compromises later reporting.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Interesting dynamic here, where folks repeatedly post questions or comments about an issue or organization, then say "Why so much focus on this?" This summer I'd say the blog has been dominated by news about school board candidates -- and our comment board has been WAY loaded by comments from candidate Larry. What do you think, Larry? Is this a sign that the Observer is promoting your campaign?

Anonymous said...

Too much of any one issue or of anyone eventually causes one's eyes to glaze over on a blog. Nothing can be done about Larry's "takeover" here, but Ann, after blogging about board candidates you did return the blog to the testing and then the Broad issues--which leads us right back to the spring "wars".

It's obvious you are not promoting Larry's campaign (other providing him with a forum, which he quickly seized). The other issues--not so obvious what the intent has been.

Larry said...

Good question Ann: Maybe I should post as an anonymous person?

Oh wait I have never done that on the Observer or any website nor will I ever do that.

So now that we know that, and since you seem concerned about my use of your blog, perhaps I need to ask have you blocked the others running from posting?

Anonymous said...

Well if the others are cowards for not posting their real names (me included)Larry should be congratulated for not HIDING his opinions. Remember that could work for him but it can also work against him. Now back to discussion about the article. Ann, keep up the good work. I personally feel that you should do more "investigative" reporting. But budget/time constraints probably prohibit that. I do wnat to thank you though for this forum to argue with Larry and comment on the issues. It gives me a different perspective and keeps me open to others opinions.

Wiley Coyote said...

Posting anonymously has nothing to do with cowardice.

I post anonymously for personal reasons and would tell anyone face to face the same opinions I put forth here.

Ann has my name, email address and cell phone number and if she ever needs to contact me for any reason she can.

If a "name" is all one needs for validty to an opinion, I'll switch mine from Wiley Coyote to Art Vandelay or Abe Froeman.

Would that make you feel better?

Pamela Grundy said...

As a co-chair of Mecklenburg ACTS, I'd like to point out that more than 2,000 people of varying political views signed our testing petition, and large numbers of people wrote letters and turned out to board meetings. Comments to blogs on testing and pay for performance were swamped with remarks from people who are not part of our organization. Even Wiley, who disagrees with us on many issues, has been quite critical about the over-emphasis on testing. Observer reporters looking for critical perspectives on CMS policy had no need to rely on us as a single source, and they didn't.

Anonymous said...

Many CMS employees post anonymously for fear of retaliation. Anyone who doesn't see the need for this clearly ignored what happened to the TA at Carmel who questioned teaching kids in 90+ heat when the AC failed.

Anonymous said...

I am hopeful that Larry will take to heart all he learns from the teachers on these boards and concerns in the community over: testing craziness, TFA, strategic staffing initiatives, pay for performance, etc. and leads a charge of thoughtful, logical, and researched candidacy for the BOE here in Charlotte. I am sure if he asked for honest feedback from teachers he would get it---and I don't mean in a complaining sense either--actual, real, true feedback. There's a reason why there are those who go into this profession and why it is so tiresome when people sit on the BOE who have no clue what actually goes on in the classrooms or what we deal with when all these "fads" come down the pipe--- It's time for common sense on the BOE (and I believe that those two things can exist and not be labeled an oxymoron!)--Good luck, sir--

BolynMcClung said...


Let’s see if I can meld the two subjects of this blog: Eli Broad and being anonymous. My headline combines the words of two authors. William Shakespeare and Thomas Payne.

Thomas Payne wrote America’s first bestseller, Common Sense. It called-out the King’s men. It was originally anonymously published because it was treasonous. Later his name was added somewhere before the final 25th printing.

“To be or not to be,” that is the other part of this blog. Should we be anonymous or not?

an author on this blog provides an answer when she says a Carmel TA suffered the King’s wrath for speaking out. So in some respect it’s still 1775 at CMS.

Payne made a boatload of money on the pamphlet. But he donated the profits to the Continental Army. Which brings us to Eli Broad.

Mr. Broad has chosen to donate a portion of his wealth to education. Not a lot different than old Thomas. But is Broad’s foundation the opposite of Common Sense. Is Broad just one of the King’s men? Me thinks not. His view is that he wants to use to change America. Though to give his critics credit, maybe he wants to be King. But back to the melding.

With the help of Payne the King was defeated. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written. That now allows Ann and Eric to write this blog and for us to participate. Thomas, Eli, Ann, Eric and all of us share those documents’ great traditions: The Right to Assemble and Freedom of the Press.

American’s past is full of people like Broad who used their influence for change. Most of the readers of this blog have mothers who fell under the influence of Dr. Benjamin Spock. Dr. Atkins changed the way we eat and live. For Ralph Nader and Jacques Cousteau it’s about saving mother Earth. So I don’t think evil of Broad. Think of Eli Broad as just another patriot.

I choose to publish over my name. Anonymous is OK, but saying who you are says who you are. It’s great to live in a country where you can do either!

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

I always post anonymously.

After receiving death threats for prior letters to the editor in another city years ago, I think it's a good idea for most private citizens to remain anonymous.

Call it cowardice if you wish, but
I certainly don't need the hassle.

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