Education policy journalism

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About the assignment: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history,” a famous quotation attributed to publisher Phil Graham and others, captures the spirit of this assignment. The objective is to gain an up-close view of the educational policymaking process and to better understand journalism source materials and the challenges of reporting news quickly and accurately. You may feel rushed during this fast-paced writing assignment, and that’s intentional, since a goal is to experience how journalistic sources are created. Worth 5 points, due 24 hours after the event, before deadline on syllabus.

  • For this assignment, you may work alone, or co-author a post with a partner.
  • Attend at least one hour of a public event listed below and do some background reading before you go. Bring a notepad to write down key ideas you hear, and be careful to quote people accurately, with full names and affiliations. Any words spoken at a public meeting are quotable without permission.
  • If you speak individually with someone, be sure to identify yourself as a Trinity student who is writing a story for the web and request permission to quote.
  • Take a photo of yourself at the event to prove you attended.
  • Decide which story about your event is most newsworthy and write a journalism-style essay of at least 500 words. Report what you heard or witnessed at the public event, and to attribute any quotes or information to the source from which you heard or read it. Since most journalists do not use scholarly footnotes/citations, none are required for this assignment. Instead, insert links to key organizations, related news stories, or public documents. See journalism style guides about “How to Write a News Story” or “How to Write a Lead.”
  • In your WordPress post, write a catchy headline in the title, and include the photo of you at or outside the event.
  • If co-authoring this assignment:
    • Write the text together in a Google Doc
    • Copy and paste using WordPress “Paste as Text” button, to avoid junk code WordPress-paste-as-text
    • Insert links and images in the WordPress version
    • Insert BOTH names in the Custom Byline field, below editor window
  • Publish as a WordPress post (category = 2017-ed-journalism).
  • Your post will automatically appear on the current-year Student Writing page.

Your essay will be evaluated based on these criteria:

  1. Does the essay communicate a newsworthy story at the education policy event?
  2. Are key ideas, facts, names, affiliations, and quotations reported accurately?
  3. Does the digital essay make effective use of the web with visuals and/or links?

Public events on educational policy in Feb-March 2017:
If you wish to attend an event that is not listed below, please email me.

Connecticut General Assembly at the State Capitol and LOB (Legislative Office Building) – see bus directions from Trinity

Hartford Public Schools, Board of Education – see full list of upcoming meetings, especially Tues Feb 21st 5:30pm at Journalism and Media Magnet Academy, 150 Tower Ave, Hartford; Tues March 7th 5:30pm at Sport and Medical Science Academy, 280 Huyshope Ave, Hartford

Connecticut State Board of Education – State Office Building, Room 307, 165 Capitol Ave, Wed March 1st, 2017

Check back for updates and feel free to suggest additional events to be included, such as any public meeting of any district school board, school governance council, etc.

See also Resources on Connecticut & Hartford education policy for common acronyms and organization web links; sources on recent education news, and recent reports

Selected examples of state/local education policy journalism on web:
De La Torre, Vanessa. “Jumoke Charter School Shows Odds Can Be Beaten.” The Hartford Courant, October 17, 2011.

Green, Rick. “Michelle Rhee Takes Aim At Connecticut.” CT Confidential, The Hartford Courant, February 12, 2012.

Megan, Kathleen, and Daniela Altimari. “Unions Unsettled By Malloy’s Call For Tenure Reform.” The Hartford Courant, February 8, 2012.

Provost, Kerri. “More Safety Measures at Trinity Fortress.” Real Hartford, January 26, 2012.

Stuart, Christine. “Malloy Begins Rolling Out Education Reforms, Not Everyone Is On Board.” CT News Junkie, January 31, 2012.

Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. “Malloy Calls for New Charter Schools, with Some New Rules.” The Connecticut Mirror, February 7, 2012.

Advice for Trinity students from Hartford journalists:

Advice from Kerri Provost, Real Hartford (February 2012)

Dear Trinity Students,

I was asked to provide you with some advice for the journalism project you are working on.

To me, the reason to report is because I want the truth to be known. In fact, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that in this profession, we should “seek truth and report it.” If you keep this principle in mind, everything else falls into place.

Your job is to seek truth. It is not to let truth maybe fall into your hands, maybe appear in your inbox. Sure, you can get many stories that way, but that’s lazy journalism and it usually only tells one side of the story.

That’s not to say you need to be “balanced.” The concept of “balance” suggests that there are only two perspectives. Human experience is far more complex than that. There are at least three sides.

Be ready to dig. Then, dig deeper.

Check facts.

If something is a fact, it can be easily verified. This type of digging requires little effort. Recently, the news media were barred from a school governance council meeting in Hartford. My b.s. detector began chiming, so I did some digging. Within five minutes, I located several documents about organization policies and FOIA. The actual reading and interpretation took much longer, but I posted my findings on Real Hartford, the online news site I have been writing for since 2007. Two days later, school officials admitted that they had erred by banning the news media.

I sought truth. I reported it. In the process, I probably did not make any friends in high places, but I did open avenues for conversation with contacts around the city: principals, teachers, community organizers, and new members of the Board of Education. These connections will be helpful in many future stories.

Part of truth-seeking is questioning sources, including those in positions of authority. Perhaps, it means especially questioning those in positions of authority. While journalists are to report on what such individuals – the governor, superintendent, mayor, etc. – say and do, we have to remember that we are not their public relations representative. Quote them accurately, but also check to be certain that what they are claiming is accurate. If someone is speaking about policy for tenure, has that individual shown an understanding of tenure, or is he making generalizations based on what a small group of advisors have told him? Again, something like tenure is not mysterious; you can easily find a description of that process.

You might feel pressure to meet a deadline. This can be stressful, but it does not excuse sloppy and/or inaccurate reporting. If you can not verify a fact, remove it from the story. The beauty of “new media” (it’s really not-so-new anymore) is that stories can be updated later, without much fuss.

One way to ease the pressure of writing on deadline is to do as much research as possible before you head into an event. Admittedly, this is not always possible, but it will make your life easier. At minimum, find out who will be speaking and his/her background information. If you can manage it, go further and see how these individuals have been in the news previously. If they have written policy papers, try to read them. Understanding key terms is crucial. You will find yourself inundated with jargon at some events. By scanning the invites/press releases, you can pick out some of these terms; look them up before you hit the meeting.

Finally, practical advice: make sure you have charged batteries for devices and that you have a notebook and several pens or pencils. Bring a snack.

Good luck!

Kerri

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