NewsHour Defends Use Of Anonymous Sources In Success Charters Segment

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There are a couple of notable updates on the PBS NewsHour segment on Success Academies you should know about, including a Slate column that updates us on some of the legalities, a commentary from the PBS Ombudsman, and a response from the head of the NewsHour.

In Slate, columnist Michelle Goldberg cites another FERPA expert saying that the mother and child didn’t give up their privacy rights by appearing on the show — but notes that private individuals actually can’t file FERPA violations. She also reports that Leonie Haimson was involved in helping the mother write and post a letter opposing the disclosure of disciplinary information online last week.

In general, she seems to come down on the side of Merrow/PBS/the family:

Jamir Geidi wasn’t central to PBS’s piece; he was there to personalize a broader claim. The heart of the story was Merrow’s suggestion that Success Academy owes its impressive test scores in part to suspension policies that lead weaker students to transfer.

Meanwhile, PBS Ombusdsman Michael Getler, who’s not directly connected to the NewsHour show, wrote a long post suggesting among other things that the segment included too many anonymous sources and should have been held for more reporting.

A response from NewsHour head Sara Just is included:

The issue that [NewsHour] clarified regarding Ms. Moskowitz responding to the family was due to miscommunication with Mr. Merrow and the NewsHour about privacy laws. Holding the story for more time would not have changed that… [NewsHour] does not have a blanket no-anonymous-sources policy. Anonymous sources are to be used rarely and judiciously when needed in specific stories.

 According to the Ombudsman, that’s her full response. 

Not surprisingly, Success still wants the piece taken down and claims that this is the Twitter handle of the parent (expressing support for help from the UFT and extreme disdain for Success):

Getler (with whom I spoke about the controversy last week) doesn’t have anything to say about whether the NewsHour should take the piece down. I guess the next step would be to find out if the show is considering doing so (or has ever done so in the past).

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.