WashPost Raises Disclosure Issues – LA Times Responds*

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Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi makes several good points in his latest piece (Foundations fund L.A. Times’ education reporting. A conflict?) — and the LA Times appears to have already begun to respond.

Farhi’s strongest point isn’t so much that the LA Times and other outlets shouldn’t take outside money at all — this seems unrealistic — but that they should do a much, much better job of disclosing the funding in general — and in particular when they’re writing about an issue or story with direct relations to a funder. 

The background, which you may recall from a post I wrote a while back, is that the newly-expanded LA Times education team is funded in part by philanthropies with strong support for charter schools and other specific points of view.  The paper was pretty clear about the situation, and made the usual disclaimers about editorial control. They didn’t name one of the foundations involved specifically, but it wasn’t hard to figure out.

[Disclosure: This site is funded by the AFT and the Education Post (among whose funders is the Broad Foundation).] 

Since then, however, the paper hasn’t done a great job of making sure that readers know that the coverage is funded in part with $800,000 in outside money, reports Farhi. Reporter Howard Blume has mentioned the funding in some of his stories, but other pieces — including those about a charter school network that’s also funded by one of the LAT supporters and another about a funder-sponsored poll– didn’t include prominent disclosure:

“[LA Times managing editor* Mitra] Kalita said the newspaper discloses such relationships when it reports directly on an organization or individual, but not when an individual has a secondary or indirect involvement in a story, as Baxter does with Alliance.”

That approach might sound reasonable, but Farhi cites a journalism professor who says that’s not nearly enough and calls for “complete, exhaustive, repetitive transparency” whether the relationship is direct or indirect.

Upon reflection, the LA Times seems to agree. As of yesterday afternoon, the charter school poll story has been updated with the following information:

“The Broad Foundation has given money to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a new Times digital initiative devoted to more in-depth reporting on schools.”

And without quite admitting it’s a change of policy, the LA Times’ Hillary Manning says in an email:”Our policy is to include a disclosure regarding the Education Matters funders for stories that have been published since the launch of the project, which was August 18, 2015.”

If I understand correctly that means that stories like this mid-October Howard Blume piece about the effort to organize teachers against charter expansion (Unions forge alliance to fight growth of charter schools in L.A.) should soon include a disclosure statement.

Correction: The original version gave an incorrect title for Kalita. She’s ME, not digital editor.

Related posts: High Hopes & Expectations For The LA TimesEdWeek Sets Standard With Detailed DisclosureSalon Fails To Disclose Education Writer’s NEA/Labor TiesWhat About the Ford Foundation Funding the LA Times?

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.