Salon’s Long, Slow Descent Into Hyperbole & Clickbait

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Last week’s Politico story The fall of Salon.com has been discounted by some who view it as politically motivated hit job against an outlet that favors Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, but for many of those who have been following the outlet for a long time the piece triggered a surge of recognition:

“Salon, which Talbot originally conceived of as a “smart tabloid,” began as a liberal online magazine and was quickly seen as an embodiment of the media’s future. For a while, particularly ahead of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, it even looked as though it might be a success story… Despite business challenges, it remained influential for years, with a stable of respected names and a knack for picking talented young writers who would go on to become big names, like Rebecca Traister, Alex Pareene, Irin Carmon and Steve Kornacki. But that has changed.”

Indeed, Salon was once leading the way, long ago. Then it was a solid part of the online universe. But in recent years, in education and other areas, it’s been full of clickbait headlines, sketchy content, and low journalistic standards. There may still be good work being published there, but not much of it. 

“If I had dime for every time Salon put Michelle Rhee in a headline for clickbait, I’d be tweeting from a beach,” wrote StudentsFirst’s Greg Harris in response to the Salon takedown. (For my own complicated relationship with Salon’s education coverage, here’s a Twitter timeline.)

Some examples of its hyperbolic and usually anti-reform education coverage:

The charter-school scam deepens “A charter-school bubble is growing, and it’s young black kids in cities who are most in danger.”

Charter schools’ worst nightmare “A pro-union movement may change charters forever.”

Just a few days ago, Salon’s editor in chief pretty much threw journalistic balance out the window when he told EdWeek that wall-to-wall criticism of charter schools “sounded about right.” (This was in response to an AEI report finding that Salon was among the most consistently hostile outlets when it came to coverage of charter schools in 2015.)

For a long time now, Salon has been running Jeff Bryant’s education columns without letting readers know that he’s paid in part by the teachers unions. (They also publish Diane Ravitch, but she’s appropriately identified.)

Again, there’s some good writing that’s done at Salon — occasionally. And there’s nothing wrong with a left-leaning publication having a voice. But when it comes to balance, depth, and transparency with readers about sources and funding, the site’s education coverage too often falls short. The focus seems to be enraging liberal Democratic readers, not informing them. I don’t want Salon or its education coverage to go away. I just want it to be more nuanced and insightful, more of the time.

Related posts: A Revealing & Instructive Response From Salon’s Editor In ChiefSalon Fails To Disclose Education Writer’s NEA/Labor TiesThink Tank Review Suggests Media Tilt Against Charters In 2015

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.