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Local and national education coverage gets a new critic

February 10, 2011 |  2:51 pm

Want a long-overdue depth-check on articles by L.A. Times education reporter Howard Blume?

You can get one from a new site called The Media Bullpen, which was unveiled Thursday in Bethesda, Md.

The stated aim of the site (http://mediabullpen.com) is to track whether articles on education are not only factually correct but contextually complete — or at least reasonably so. The Bullpen bills itself as “the first issue-specific media watchdog site.”

The goal is to be nonideological, said publisher Jeanne Allen, although she’s aware that skeptics won’t believe it till they see it.

Allen also is the well-known (in education circles) head of the Center for Education Reform, which promotes choices for parents in forms that include magnet schools, charter schools and voucher programs. The last is the most controversial; publicly funded vouchers typically allow students to use tax dollars to pay some or all of the enrollment costs at a tuition-charging private school.

“The Bullpen is not choice-focused and not ideology-focused in terms of whether choice is better or not,” Allen said. The rubric is: “Are you asking the tough questions? Are you expanding on information that is there?”

For that reason, she said, the goal was to hire qualified journalists and researchers, rather than ideologues.

For education coverage in the L.A. Times, the important address to bookmark is:

There, readers can find in one place the articles, blog items, editorials, columns and projects related to education, generally starting with the most recent entries. (In the comments section attached to individual articles, readers can offer their own assessments of the coverage or topic). Go to latimes.com/schools to search the paper’s extensive database on schools, which includes locations, demographics and test scores.

The Bullpen joins an assortment of education news aggregators, most of which link to stories of interest without comment. These services include the National School Boards Assn. legal clips, the Catalyst-Chicago-Catalyst Notebook Feed and the ASCD SmartBrief.

Some aggregators wear their ideology proudly, like the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which offers podcast commentaries on issues and news coverage, frequently criticizing teachers unions. Other aggregators aspire to be balanced, but sometimes betray a non-neutral perspective through their choice of stories.

Individuals who take on this topic include Alexander Russo, who has an upcoming book on Locke High School, and Stanford's Williamson Evers.

The Hechinger Report, a New York-based news site for original, national education reporting, evolved from the Hechinger Institute, which formerly focused on training education reporters.


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-- Howard Blume