Did Seattle Strike Catch Education Outlets By Surprise?*

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*UPDATED: See additional information following original blog post.

Now that the Seattle teachers strike is ending, let’s take a moment to go back and take a quick look at the coverage of the strike and in particular whether news outlets did a good job preparing the public (and parents) for the possibility that a strike was going to take place. 

A look back at the Seattle Times’ education articles shows one August 25 story about a possible September 3 strike vote, but then nothing until a September 2 story — the day before the strike vote. A look back at Seattle Public Radio’s education stories shows nothing with the word strike until September 3rd, the day that the strike vote threat is issued. (I can’t tell when AP first reported the story; the first piece I can find is from September 8, the day the strike was announced.) 

To be fair, journalists can’t predict the future and there was a lot of education-related news going on at the same time. The state supreme court ruled that charter schools were unconstitutional — another event that seemed like it came from nowhere. 

Still, one of the main functions of media coverage is to tell the public (and policymakers) what’s coming down the line. Sometimes news outlets spend too much time publishing speculative stories about what might happen next — much of which turns out not to be the case. Other times — this may be one of them — news outlets don’t do as good a job as they might have letting people know about looming deadlines, possible changes of course, etc.  

It’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened. Earlier this year, pretty much everyone missed the possibility that the House would fail on its first attempt to revamp the federal education law known as ESEA, even though in retrospect it seemed like a reasonable possibility that could have been reported out.

*UPDATE: There was apparently a little bit more coverage about the possibility of a strike than came up on my RSS feeds or can be found online after the fact:

According to local NPR affiliate KUOW education reporter Ann Dornfeld, “We do a lot of coverage that’s not online or not searchable” such as talk show two-ways, the like. I’ve noted much the same with NPR education segments that I hear when broadcast as part of Morning Edition or All Things Considered but can’t find full versions of after the fact. Dorfeld pointed me to this August 25th piece and also noted that the strike was somewhat of a last-minute surprise, fueled by a late-breaking district proposal for a longer day.  

The Seattle Times’ John Higgins kindly pointed me to one additional story that I hadn’t seen from August 28th story about the fact that Seattle being the last district in the area without a tentative contract. “Things aren’t progressing well,” Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp said at a rally Thursday. “It’s been slow and difficult.” That makes three stories from the Seattle Times leading up to the strike.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.