Wednedsday, Phi Delta Kappan, the online “professional journal for educators”, published a hand-wringing piece asking an important if misguided question: How do increasingly unionized newsrooms complicate reporting?
Titled “Covering Education in a Unionized Newsroom,” authorial reins are handed over to Rachel Cohen, a freelance writer who recently came on Retort’s radar by writing then deleting a tweet belittling parents critiquing Elizabeth Warren’s stance on charter schools.
Cohen interviews several notable educational journalists and asks them whether membership in unionized newsrooms impacts their objectivity or merits a disclaimer. As one might expect, none of the journalists find an issue nor believe their union membership requires disclosure to readers. Fair enough, no one wants to read a laundry list of personal participations from every author.
But should reporters be the arbiters of their own objectivity? The one non-reporter interviewed, Kelly McBride of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, thinks “that union newsrooms might want to consider some kind of disclosure to their audience when covering labor stories.” This is more sensible. When reporters have a relevant stake in any story they’re covering, readers should know about any overlapping personal circumstances.
Cohen doesn’t address the important distinctions between public and private sector unions, considering them equals. Nevertheless, asking whether unionized reporters should cover union-related stories or declare their own union status is trivial. In the education reform world, one is hard pressed to find full-throated teachers’ union disbelievers.
In other words, journalists, your bias is showing. And has been for a long time.
Rather, as an avowed “education reformer,” what I can’t stand is how far out of the organized labor lane the AFT and NEA stray. I’m exhausted by the constant assaults and gotcha journalism targeting any effort to fund reform of America’s deeply flawed public education system.
Meanwhile the union-funded front groups and media mouthpieces remain largely unexamined. When it comes to reporting on their own funders, reporters like Cohen (and many more) mysteriously misplace their journalistic ambition.
I keep hearing this narrative that politicians are taking a more critical stand on charters just to court the teacher union vote. I find it very unconvincing https://t.co/dSpNjXTg94
— Rachel Cohen (@rmc031) June 9, 2019
a consequence is that the most publicly critical voices were often just teachers and their unions. It became easy to come away with the impression that the fight over charter schools was just a fight between unionized teachers vs. everyone else. Media played big role in this /3
— Rachel Cohen (@rmc031) January 4, 2020
Yes I do think unions + their allied-groups have played a significant role in shifting public opinion. But I also think an overwhelming stream of news reports + state investigations into fraud & mismanagement lent new weight to the unions’ long-standing call for oversight
— Rachel Cohen (@rmc031) June 9, 2019
When you say “allied” — you mean heavily funded and directly influenced … right?
Is there a list of big anti-choice donors out there? I don't think their names are well known as the pro-choice donors.
— Alexander (@alexanderrusso) February 16, 2020
Gee whiz, I wonder why those names are less well known. The reporter invited to write for Phi Delta Kappa can tell you why I bet.
Retort seeks to fill this void with counter examination. And if I’ve missed an in-depth accounting of the many “community and media” outlets financially backed by NEA/AFT, please send those this direction.
No serious Ed Reformer is against workplace protections, living wages, comprehensive benefits, or professional development. Educators, journalists, and all workers deserve these basic rights. What gets us all in a Twitter lather though are the extraordinary, one-sided agendas pursued by teachers’ unions over the past 30 years. Agendas which prioritize status quos and pensions over historically marginalized students.
Generally, more unionized newsrooms are a good thing. But if and when those unions start demanding that reporters only cover one kind of story, or only from a particular angle, while vociferously funding a far-reaching agenda driven by an increasing radicalized delegate base, I might have a different opinion.