There was a bit of a kerfluffle last night on Twitter (when isn’t there?) about a Washington Post writeup of Campbell Brown’s new education news/advocacy effort, The Seventy-Four.
Written by media reporter Paul Farhi, the story (Campbell Brown has a new education-focused site: Is it news or advocacy?), the piece includes several quotes from Brown and then a description of the first few stories from the site. The piece goes on to list funders including conservative pro-voucher foundations and ends with critical quotes from longtime Democratic Hill staffer Jack Jennings and AFT head Randi Weingarten.
My first and main thought, reading the piece yesterday afternoon, was that it seemed strange that the piece didn’t include any supportive outside voices.
Instead, it ends with quotes from Jennings and Weingarten, both of whom are skeptics.
In response to my tweet, Farhi noted that the piece included several quotes from Brown, who obviously supports her own effort, and that the placement of the quotes at the end was unimportant.
I disagree, and can think of several other approaches that would have been preferable, including giving Brown a chance to respond to the criticisms laid out by Jennings and Weingarten, or finding another outside voice — a journalist, academic, or education leader of some kind — to express support.
Other concerns about the piece that popped up — from Brown and others involved with or supportive of the site — included that the overview was inaccurate or misleading. Here it is:
“The Seventy Four’s first articles Monday suggest that it favors an agenda that is advocated primarily by business interests and conservative politicians, and that is strongly opposed by public school teachers and their unions. President Obama has supported some of the business and conservatives’ ideas, too, putting him at odds with teachers.”
Farhi (@farhip) defended himself online, pointing out that there were no questions of factual inaccuracy or misquoting of sources being raised (the journalistic minimum), that his opinions — pro-reform or otherwise — aren’t directly expressed in the piece, and that he didn’t feel the need to provide a recording or transcript of the interview (as requested by Brown).
Looking back this morning, there are other problems I’d bring up with the Farhi piece, including the lack of any explanation for readers about the bad blood between Weingarten and Brown, but mostly I think it’s just a good example of a situation in which the context of a story — language used, selection of information, and order of presentation — is just as important as factual accuracy of the items described. Journalists who think that accuracy is all that matters are misleading themselves. Whom they quote, what descriptive words they use, and how they structure a story all matter and are fair game.
Thankfully, this won’t be the last word on Brown’s new site. Nieman Lab’s Shan Wang (@shansquared) is working on a piece about it that should come out sometime soon.