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By Anthony Cody. 

The Education Writers Association has decided that, although I was awarded a first prize for my writing just last year, I am no longer permitted to submit my work for consideration for future awards. Leaders of the organization have decided that I do not meet their definition of a journalist. Investigative blogger and author Mercedes Schneider recently applied for membership, and was likewise denied on the same grounds.

I think this decision constricts the vital public discourse, and excludes those of us not on the payroll of mainstream corporate media.

The EWA has two forms of membership; Journalist and Community. I joined the EWA when I was still working full time as a teacher coach for the Oakland schools. Since writing about education was not my primary occupation, I signed up as a “community member.” This status did not prevent me from submitting my work for their award competition, or from participating in their events, though as a non-journalist I was not allowed to pose questions at their events.

In 2010, my work was awarded a “special citation” by EWA. Two years ago, my dialogue with the Gates Foundation won second prize. Last year, I was awarded first prize in the opinion category for my posts about the Common Core. The judges commented that:

Very good. This is by far the best and most rational coverage I’ve seen on Common Core in a long time. You can tell he knows his stuff and I appreciate his conversational tone. I’m sure part of that is because these are blogs but still, it’s a skill and one that few can do well.

and

Cody is clearly well-versed on these issues, writes in a comfortable cadence and provides some much-needed cool-headed rational balance to a very incendiary topic. I particularly liked the exchange with an articulate, reasoned reader — interactive journalism and blogging is best when it isn’t a one-way communication. … [R]eaders can dip in when they wish, dip out when they’ve had their fill or chase links down bunny holes if they wish. A valuable on-going contribution to discussion on this matter.

Acody2014EWASo I was surprised when my submission for this year’s award was rejected. I was told that going forward, only journalist members would be allowed to compete. I asked EWA to change my designation to that of journalist, since that is now my primary pursuit. At first I was told that I was in a “gray area,” and EWA leadership needed to consider the request. After several days, I received word that my request was denied. The EWA staffer wrote:

We found your work to be very important in promoting the conversation on education practices and policies, but it didn’t align with EWA’s stricter standards for independent news media. Among many factors, we look for is the media outlet’s independence from what is covered, institutional verifications, and editorial processes.

At this point in time, we hope to have you continue as an active EWA Community Member.

Investigative writer Mercedes Schneider likewise was informed:

Your blog is important in the conversation about education practice, policy, and reporting; however, it does not meet our stricter guidelines for independent journalism (http://www.ewa.org/bylaws).

These bylaws state:

Journalist membership is open to individuals whose primary professional activities involve reporting, writing, producing, editing, or otherwise preparing the news and editorial content of independent news media products. The definition of journalist also includes freelancers whose primary body of work is for independent news media, staffers at press associations or journalism education associations, journalism instructors, and journalism students.

Both Schneider and myself are completely independent. Unlike many of those accepted as journalists by EWA, neither of us are funded by major corporate philanthropies that actively seek to shape news coverage. Nor are we paid by unions or any other organization, for profit or non-profit.

It should be noted that the line being drawn is a fuzzy one. While I apparently am insufficiently “independent from what is covered,” it is interesting to see who continues to qualify as an independent journalist. At past EWA events, those designated as journalists included Alexander Russo, employed by Scholastic to write his blog, This Week in Education. The reporters on the Gates Foundation payroll at the Seattle Times, who are tasked with sharing stories about “what works” through the Education Lab, are also considered journalists.

Even prior to this rejection, my status as a “community member” rather than “journalist” affected my participation in EWA events. In 2013, when EWA gathered at Stanford University, I attended, having received second prize for my series of posts in dialogue with the Gates Foundation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke, and took questions from the audience. After Alexander Russo (as mentioned, a blogger on salary from Scholastic) had asked Secretary Duncan a question, I rose to ask a question. But the mic was taken away. I was told that because I was not a “journalist,” I was ineligible to ask questions – though I posted several of the questions I would have asked on my blog.

One of the roles my blog has played is to challenge the Obama administration publicly, in a way few mainstream media outlets choose to do. When President Obama criticized his own policies back in 2011, it was my blog that obliged the Department of Education to respond, as covered a few days later in the New York Times. In fact, the headline of that piece was “Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing.” And again, on December 19, my blog challenged President Obama’s assertion, at his press conference, that test scores for African American and Latino students are on the rise in states that have initiated reform. This is the sort of general statement that is left un-interrogated by most mainstream reporters, and thus becomes part of the received wisdom, even though it is contradicted by a mountain of evidence.

My blog, and those of many other education bloggers, are truly independent of the subtle and not so subtle controls exerted by employers and publishers. Where else but from independent bloggers like Bob Braun in Newark, New Jersey, would we get hard hitting investigations of corruption there? How else, but as a result of the relentless digging of Mercedes Schneider, would we get the real truth about the origins of the Common Core? You will not find members of any Gates-funded education “journalism” projects doing such investigations.

It could be that the EWA is embarrassed by the active presence of bloggers such as myself in their events and in their awards. I recently published a book that systematically challenges the Gates Foundation, and, not surprisingly, the Gates Foundation is a leading sponsor of the EWA.

But the functioning of a democracy requires a free and independent press. While the EWA asserts that it “retains sole editorial control over its programming and content,” the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is #1 on its list of current sustaining partners is hard to overlook.

Ironically, when the staff at EWA offered their justification for declining me as a journalist member, they said they considered: “a media outlet’s independence from what is covered, institutional verifications, and editorial processes.”

So Education Nation, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, which Brian Williams acknowledges as the source for “ the facts that we’re going to be referring to often to help along our conversation,” rates an award from the EWA, but the bloggers who challenge this well-financed journalistic charade are considered insufficiently objective?

Cartoonist Robert Crumb, who now lives in France, was recently asked to comment on the killing of cartoonists there. As an aside, he said,

You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore, what they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.

NBC “journalist” Chuck Todd accidentally revealed this sorry state of affairs in a conversation with Lewis Black, W. Kamau Bell, and Laura Krafft. Black expressed amazement that Todd could sit and listen to politicians blather and not start barking at them. Todd responded, “We all sit there, cause we all know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show.”

The Education Writers Association is patrolling the boundaries of acceptable discourse, and excluding those of us willing to cross those boundaries. In a time when education reform is driven by groupthink, the “mindguard” sets the limits on what can be said and what must be declared out of bounds. Clearly, Schneider and I fall outside of those limits.

Fortunately there is a new alternative to the Education Writers Association. The Education Bloggers Network has emerged as a nexus of more than 200 writers and journalists willing to challenge the dominant narrative regarding education. It is led by Jonathan Pelto, former Connecticut state legislator, and author of the Wait What? blog. The Edublogger Code of Ethics is posted here, and states:

 Each member of the Education Bloggers Network agrees to follow our Code of Ethics as citizen journalists dedicated to truth-telling and democracy. We seek to abide by the following:

  • Publish as fact only that which there is reason to believe to be true. If a statement is speculation, identify it as so.

  • If material exists online, link to it when referencing it. Linking to referenced material allows readers to judge for themselves the accuracy and insight of statements.

  • Publicly correct any misinformation.

  • If a post has been changed since its original publication, note and explain the reason why.

  • Disclose any conflict of interest.

  • Note questionable and biased sources.

  • Promote interactivity by allowing open discussion

It is unfortunate that the Education Writers Association is walling itself off from truly independent bloggers. One of the most crucial functions of a democracy is the operation of a free and critical press, and robust debate and discussion among journalists themselves is essential. I hope the EWA Board revisits this policy in the future. Meanwhile, I hope truly independent education writers will join the Education Bloggers Network.

Update, Jan. 18, 2015: If you would like to share some feedback with EWA regarding this policy, you can do so here. 

 What do you think? Is Living in Dialogue insufficiently independent to be considered legitimate journalism? Or are we seeing evidence of a discourse restricted by the influence of moneyed interests? 

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. Kenneth Bernstein aka teacherken    

    My experience with EWA is also problematic. In 2011 the then Omsbudman for EWA, Linda Perlstein, organized an event for EQA at Carnegie in NYC. A certain number of education bloggers were invited. I was not originally on the list, but when Renee Moore could not attend and recommended me in her stead, I received an invitation.

    Those of us who were invited discovered before the event that we were largely window dressing, that is, not being given any kind of meaningful role. Organized by Steve Lazar, we did some organizing online before the event, and then got together for dinner the evening before. Some of the others participating were quite notable, including Ariel Sachs, David Ginsberg, Jose Vilson, etc.

    We were largely NOT asked what we thought, and only given a few opportunities to ask questions during the main event.

    Afterward, there were three tables, each with 3-4 bloggers and a batch of journalists. The table I was at the discussion was moderated by Perlstein. After listening to some of the bloviation from writers for major publications, I decided to be assertive and posed the following question. I asked how many of those journalists – who remember, are supposed to explain education to the general public – could explain each of the following

    Simpson’s Paradox
    Zone of Proximal Development
    Reggio Emelia
    Campbell’s Law

    of the asssembled journalists, the only one who had even heard of all four was Perlstein, and there were several others present who knew NONE of them, even though they worked for major media outlets.

    Here I also note I had one conversation before the event started that really troubled me, with Jo-Ann Armao of the editorial board of the Washington Post. When I mentioned that Valerie Strauss had reposted several of my pieces, Armao was more than dismissive of Strauss and what appeared in her blog, even though I presume that many reading this words are aware of the reach of Strauss’s blog, and the megaphone she has been willing to provide for those of us who are not part of the “consensus” on education “reform.”

    As an example of her reach, consider this piece, which was originally written for Academe

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/09/a-warning-to-college-profs-from-a-high-school-teacher/

    The Post version was liked on facebook over 140,000 times, and probably had page views in excess of a million. The piece got widely reposted on other blogs, and I still, almost two years after it was posted, receive emails on it.

    By the way, if in reading these words, you do not know the four terms I listed, you should if you are going to opine about education.

    So let me give you some assistance, with a blog post from August 2011

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/20/1008980/-So-you-want-to-write-opine-about-education#

    And when I inquired about joining EWA, I was not even given the option of joining as a community member, I supposed because (a) a majority of my blogging is on topics other than education, and (b) I post largely at a political site, Daily Kos.

    That said, my work has been posted or printed by Education Week / Teacher; the Washington Post (not just on Strauss’s blog, but in Jay Mathews’ column and in the dead tree edition of the Post), the New York Times, CNN.Com, and I am a sought after reviewer of books on education, with work posted not only at Daily Kos but also at Education Review

    http://www.edrev.info/

    where you can read my reviews by going here

    http://www.edrev.info/rauthor.html#B

    and then looking for my name Kenneth Bernstein

    Make of this comment what you will, but I fully understand Anthony’s frustration with this situation.

  2. ira shor    

    Shame on the EWA for censoring and excluding superb blogger-journalists like you and Mercedes Schneider. You and Mercedes are TOO independent–that is the real problem. You use your First Amendment Rights and your craft elegantly and effectively to expose the private war on public education, as well as challenging the “official” bought journalists who enable this disgraceful looting of the public sector. Your exclusion from this status-quo EWA is a mark of your distinction and integrity and a mark of their hypocrisy and shame.

  3. Jim Horn    

    If you are “independent,” why is your ridiculously-vague and constricting Code awaiting final approval at the NPE’s Chicago talk fest in April. Perhaps Randi will have some important input.

  4. Patricia    

    What sad, disheartening news. . . .thank you, Anthony, for your integrity, independence and courage in defending our democracy and public education.

  5. Virginia Tibbetts    

    This is outrageous. It just proves how much monied interests have permeated our Democracy. Keep up the pressure, Anthony and Mercedes. We need your voices to be heard and the truth to be told.

  6. Lloyd Lofthouse    

    Has anyone followed the money coming to the EWA from the Gates, Walton or Broad foundations yet? It seems that these anti-democratic public, education reform oligarchs are buying everyone from government at all levels, to nonprofits and the media to achieve their obvious goals to convert the U.S. from a democracy to an oligarchy.

    Just to be clear, whenever I use the word reform, I’m not talking about a movement with goals to improve education but about the corporate/oligarch driven movement to do away with traditional public education and replace it with profit-driven corporate Charters run by CEOs who only answer to their stock holders—-private sector schools designed to make a small number of people wealthy.

    For instance, Eva Moskowitz who pays herself more than $500,000 annually as the CEO of her segregated corporate Charters schools in NYC. And when I say segregated, I mean children being turned away because they have learning disabilities, are poor test takers, live in poverty and/or come from dysfunctional families that cause these children to be at risk because they are a challenge to teach, or English is their second language.

    1. VanessaVaile    

      Lloyd, a friend of mine who does just that regularly (obsession, hobby, public service — or all of the above — take your pick) gives EWA a resounding thumbs down and refuses to use them as a source. She would consider their rejection an endorsement.

      1. Lloyd Lofthouse    

        I don’t know that much about the EWA, but something doesn’t smell right about the organization.

  7. Christopher Stewart    

    But you are not the “press” Anthony. You are not a professional journalist and you have none of the professional controls that professional journalists have in place. You are a blogger with not editorial controls. Education bloggers – ironically – are the TFAers of journalism.

  8. Anngie84    

    The code is conflicted. If the goal is to let readers judge the veracity of your statements for themselves by including links to your sources,why would it be incumbent upon the writer to note biases in those sources? I thought we were letting the reader decide. Also, it is possible to use facts to misinform. That’s what PR firms do when they need to spin a story. Requiring EWA writers to use facts but then discount other facts as misinformation seems contra indicated as well. I thought blogs were by definition personal opinion sources. If you want a job just reporting facts that you believe are true because they came in a press release from a public agency or major corporation, then get a job in the MSM.

    1. 2old2tch    

      It really is good practice to identify a sources position if it is known, so that a reader can make a more informed decision about that input. For instance, if the Gates foundation funded a study that purported to show the success of a computer driven program in raising test scores, I am going to want to read research from independent sources. If I commented on some legislation having to do with the funding of special education, it would be important to know that I am a former special education teacher. It would be logical to expect that my remarks might indicate a particular bias. How you interpret that information is influenced or might be influenced by your own biases and whether you except my opinion as expert. It is important to understand who is speaking. Providing information about bias is not simply about identifying potential misinformation

      1. 2old2tch    

        cx: source’s position; accept

  9. Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene    

    We need to remember that those stenographers for power also known as “The Education Writers Association” consider neoliberal corporate reform sycophant Richard Whitmere to be the “model” journalist.

  10. Mike Barrett    

    It seems clear that EWA has purposely rewritten its bylaws and contest rules to exclude journalists like you.

  11. Sarah    

    Continue your good work, I will not be surprised when they name you a journalist based on that work.

  12. Dale Lidicker    

    Keep on writing, Anthony. You have an incredible voice and provide valuable information and insights for us. You have a rapt audience.

  13. rbeckley58    

    I can’t imagine a more independent role than blogger. In fact, when speaking to non-educators, just keep emphasizing your independence from billionaire or corporate influence. This not only frames your integrity, but helps flesh out a picture that most people can’t even imagine – that monied interests view education as an industry. Or that journalists reporting on education aren’t just paid by the likes of Time Warner, but by backing from Bill Gates. The educated public is still unaware that when policy makers appear to be discussing what is best for kids, they are lobbied by textbook and computer companies (again, Bill Gates) in the same way that arms makers lobby for federal funding for a new bomb. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but the public and the press need to hear it, not just the educators – over and over. To heck with the EWA.

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