Why Advocacy Disguised As Media Criticism Doesn’t Work*

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 9.29.29 AM

*See correction at bottom of this piece.

Media criticism is fun, important, and seems easy. That’s why everyone wants to do it. 

But it doesn’t work very well (in terms of being taken seriously) when done as a form of advocacy or when the organizations doing it face some of the same challenges as the organizations and work they’re critiquing.  

That’s what limits the credibility of media criticism coming from Center for Education Reform, Education Post (a funder of this site), or — most recently — The Seventy Four.

In its latest “fact check” (Mainstream Media Fails to Disclose Union Funding), contributor Eric Owens notes that “several big-name newspapers dutifully printed [a flawed] report’s findings… [but] not one acknowledged the group’s union funders.”

I’m all for transparency, and agree that mainstream news outlets covering the Center on Media and Democracy should have indicated the funding behind its work (and other substantive problems with the study).  

But it’s problematic that the publication that produced this story doesn’t reveal its funders in this story.*

In so doing, The Seventy Four and others are contributing to the problems of disclosure and media accountability that they say that they’re so concerned about for short term tactical advantage. Readers would do well to be extremely cautious when consuming this kind of work — and advocates might do better in the long run if they submitted problematic coverage to public editors, ombudsmen, or independent organizations.

*Correction: My original post claimed that that the Seventy Four doesn’t list its donors anywhere. That’s wrong — they’re here on its site.

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.