You don’t regularly get a chance to hear and see education reporters talk about their work and what they’re seeing, so it was great to see this NY1 local cable news segment featuring NYC education reporters talking with host Errol Louis. Click here for the video – it doesn’t seem embeddable
Included in the Mid-June panel are Eliza Shapiro of Politico New York, Kate Taylor of the New York Times, Ben Chapman of the NY Daily News and Beth Fertig of WNYC Radio. The segment includes discussion of mayoral control and the NYC Department of Education’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools.
It’s hard not to notice that the host is the only person on the panel who appears to be a person of color. The apparent lack of diversity among education reporters and editors is increasingly discussed. Most education reporters are white and female, according to a recent survey from the Education Writers Association. White reporters attempt to report on communities of color with as much sensitivity as possible, but inevitably miss or misunderstand things they see or hear that are new or unfamiliar to them.
At least one of the panelists — NYDN’s Ben Chapman — is also part of the gentrification/segregation discussion that’s been going on in recent months. He and his wife, both of them new parents, were profiled in a recent award-winning New York Magazine series on gentrification in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Another education writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, recently wrote about being a reporter and a parent, and why she chose a low-performing segregated school for her child.
One other observation is that the reporters, except perhaps Fertig, seem inclined to judge De Blasio’s much-discussed school turnaround efforts as a failure. Fertig points out that short timeframes are unfair to most turnaround efforts, though politically and financially (and journalistically) convenient. Fertig has not only been covering education for a long time now, but also comes to the beat from covering politics. (For more about her background, see Fertig Thinks Differently About Education Reporting.) Host Lewis points out that children don’t have time to wait.
The discussion illustrates the reality that reporters struggle to deal with anecdotal examples — often extreme or dramatic in nature — compared to mixed, sometimes even contradictory information from a broader set of schools or data points. The anecdotal extremes often win out, for understandable reasons, but the result can be misleading or simplistic for readers.
The disconnect between anecdotes and broader kinds of data available to reporters came up not too long ago in Taylor’s NYT piece on diversity in the opt-out movement: NYT Race & Testing Piece Ignores Polling Data From Parents Of Color. See also A Nagging Disconnect Between Vivid Anecdotes & Underlying Data for further reading on this dynamic.