Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thank You Linda Shaw

As most of you may know, Linda Shaw is the education reporter for the Seattle Times. She and I have a good working relationship. She has had students in SPS so she knows the district from the parent's side of the lens.

I asked her, during the break at the last Work Session, what had tipped her off to investigate the 17% college readiness claim for the Times' Truth Needle story. She just smiled and told me that the figure had never seemed right to her.

That's one more person who, like Ramona Hattendorf of the SCPTSA and Michael DeBell, knew something was off. Both Michael and Ramona had asked and been told someone would get back to them and no one ever did. For months and then years.

But it stuck in the back of a lot of people's minds and we are fortunate that Linda decided to follow-thru. She's a reporter and staff were not going to be able to shake her off.

We complain her sometimes about the Times' work, both editorially and in their articles. Given some of their work in the last couple of months (the astonishing rejection of the levy by the editorial board and Linda's work on the 17% issue), I think the Times really does want to do better and does want to be more balanced and does want to take the lead on education reporting.

Thanks Linda for asking the hard questions. You daylighted a huge issue that needed public attention.

14 comments:

Zebra (or Zulu) said...

Can't go there with you on this one Melissa.

Linda Shaw thought something of off about the 17% figure..."for months and then years." However, she waited until just a few weeks ago to inform the public!

Why? Three possible reasons:

1. We have all been calling her a "tool" of MGJ for so long that she was getting nervous.

2. Someone suggested to her she better balance her reporting.

3. She experienced an epiphany about the corruption and ineptitude rife throughout the SPS offices.

One token article criticizing the District will not balance Ms. Shaw's scale. Perhaps several dozen might do the trick, none of which that are written from District or A4E press releases.

Sahila said...

I agree with Zebra/Zulu

Seattle nice lets people off the hook far too easily...

One little step in the right direction (regardless of the motives) and "all is forgiven", sainthood is bestowed...

Its like the abuse cycle...

abuse, apology/remorse, honeymoon, abuse, apology/remorse, honeymoon, abuse, apology/remorse, honeymoon...

gotta break that pattern, people...

wait with the praise until the change for the better is locked in/confirmed and the kudos is deserved...

Charlie Mas said...

I hope Linda will follow up on that story about mischaracterized statistics with a story about the mischaracterized statistic called "Students making gains on state tests".

Stu said...

In general, it's been my experience that newspapers would prefer to run "sensational" stories, stories of corruption and deception, over "good news" and "all's well" articles.

I'm hoping the Ms. Shaw, seeing the response she's getting to FINALLY digging beneath the surface of something, will continue to hold the district accountable for things that have been said.

Everyone has different opinions about what has to be done to fix this district and I don't always agree with everyone here or staff or board members or Gates or the papers . .

The one thing I would think we could all agree upon is that reporting should at least try to be balanced and not just parrot the district position all the time. The Seattle Times, and by extension Ms. Shaw, are pro-MGJ and pro-board and pro-Broad, and rarely present both sides of an issue. The Seattle Times has taken editorializing off the Editorial page and moved it everywhere else. What Ms. Shaw did this time was actually some investigative reporting and I hope that she'll continue to examine ALL the issues with the same dedication to the truth.

I'd love to see her take examine the boundaries around Garfield and the use of APP, over the years, as the traditional whipping post. I know it's not a priority but it's indicative of the way this district functions.

How 'bout the stink coming off of the TFA lies. (The whole "hiring won't happen 'til the 3rd round even though, wink-wink, the schools involved only have one round" deception!

stu

Central Mom said...

Some background for those of you without experience in a newsroom:

1) Linda, or any traditional newspaper reporter, simply can't just write about what she wishes. She has to present ideas that are approved of by her direct editor and the larger editor group that meets daily to plan the day's and week's news.

2) In addition, Linda is likely to be assigned stories from that same group of editors. Even if she has something of interest, a higher priority will generally be the directive of those news managers.

3) The Times has an investigative team. It has won Pulitzers with that team. In-depth, multi-week investigation happens in that forum and some of the issues we've talked about on this blog might well fall into that arena.

4) This all means we, the public, need cogent Big Picture suggestions addressed not just to Linda but to the investigative folks at the Times. And to the editors.

5) The Times has been seriously impacted by the economy and the transfer of news to the online arena. Resources are stretched very thin, and yes, it shows in the education reporting. (Not a knock on Linda.) That's why this blog is so, so crucial to the community. It's also why the public needs to let The Times know that education stories will gain them readers.

4) Linda, I believe works part-time. I do not know whether that is by her choice or because of resource issues, but I'm sure she'd be willing to let you know, should you ask.

5) Journalism is a tough career. No monetary reward. Exhausting. Lots of criticism, few props. I salute anyone these days who has stuck with it. If Linda's still there, it's because she cares. So despite the need to talk to more reporters and editors at the Times, do keep feeding Linda story ideas. Some of them will see the time of day, no doubt.

6) No, I did not talk to Linda before typing this post.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Zulu, what's Michael excuse? He's an elected official.

I sense a change at the Times and I want to support it.

I'm not letting anyone off the hook but I am going to be positive when I see progress.

Charlie, we should contact the Times' Investigative team about what we have put together. A connect-the-dots to the downfall and hubris of an urban superintendent.

Central Mom said...

Part Two on Newspaper Background:

The Op/Ed portion of The Times, and any traditional newspaper, is its own independent universe. And yes, the opinions of the family or corporation owning the paper can come into play here.

This is a very different setup than blogs like this one, or newer media sources locally and nationally, which often marry opinion commentary and news within the same story or online posting. *Of course* traditional news reporters have biases and opinions, but the traditional newspaper world separates "news" reporting from "columnists" and the "Op/Ed staff."

Want to change the tone of the OpEd pages or a specific columnist? Step up and meet with these writers/editors to give them background about your concerns. Write emails. Meet for lunch and coffee. Organize with other like-minded citizens who are able and willing to provide a good argument and lots of data to back it up. Be persistent. Very persistent.

Do not expect an "I agree with you" printed editorial anytime soon from any of the OpEd writers. But what may happen, after multiple contacts with the multiple editors by multiple citizens over multiple months is that the collective knowledge and opinions of the editorial board may become broader. And they may come to embrace some of the points. And maybe someday you WILL see a different tone on the pages.

We saw it happen with Melissa and Dorothy and their team's well-crafted points about the last levy. It can happen.

Sahila said...

I'm a journalist, Central Mom... and you couldnt pay me enough money to be a mouthpiece for the deform agenda...

It all comes down to ethics and personal responsibility... and journalists have a duty to present balanced information...

If they cant/wont do that, they need not to be working in the profession... they need to move into marketing and PR

Sahila

Zebra (or Zulu) said...

Melissa:

Of late, Michael DeBell is being blown by a wind created by others. He is not the source of this storm. It doesn't matter how attentive he is to (or contemplative about) the issues for which he is responsible; he votes wrong most of the time. He has walked this Board down a dark path from which it will take years to recover.

Working with the current (and past) SPS Administrations(s) has taught me that occasionally they will throw the public a bone to satiate their thirst for blood. It is predictable, cynical, and destructive.

I predict that this sudden wave of enthusiasm for truth and reconciliation will fade like a hurricane crossing over land. So, too, will Mr. DeBell's wind.

dan dempsey said...

I am just a tad confused (normal for me). I've seen Linda Shaw taking notes at Board work sessions and never seen an article when it seemed one was called for ...... my guess is SeaTimes editorial control ZAPPED her article.

Thus I was a bit surprised when Linda's 17% article made it to daylight.

I will put it in the "Throw Dog a Bone" category until there is a Times follow up.

The appropriate "Good follow up" as Charlie points out is the "Students making gains on state tests", which would be a natural. Without such a follow up by L. Shaw, the 17% article is definitely just a bone tossed to the crowd.

I seems that no wants to go near the MGJ/Enfield forgery in production of the NTN 3-12-2010 Action Report. My latest FOIA request should arrive in about a week, in regard to the "draft memo" masquarading as the real deal.

lori said...

Now that MGL has gotten through her
entire agenda, Michael DeBell, Linda Shaw, the editorial board of the Seattle Times, Ramona, Reuvel and the rest of the postulates are
taking risks.

This is way too late for families without power who continue to suffer, skilled educators who are
treated like Walmart cashiers who have to make a quota on a test (MAP) that was lied about to them
when it was initiated, adopted math programs that blatantly discriminate against the most vulnerable children, et al.

So what that these characters are
saying something now. The time to
take a risk passed a long time ago
and they did nothing but rubber stamp and treat the rest of us like crybabies who couldn't handle change.

The most telling comment from MGL
was when she said what surprised her most about Seattle was the lack
of systems in place. This was code for "I can't believe I got my way so easily."

Rusty

Jan said...

I hear you, Sahile (and Zebra) -- and yet . . . and yet . . . . If people get slammed when we perceive them as failing in their responsibilities (here, to report serious problems with the governance and direction of SSD) --and then get slammed again when they do something right (because it is too little too late, or just a "bone" to keep up quiet -- etc. etc.) -- well, it all gets to be a bit much.

Obviously, we don't want to declare that everything in hunky dory in the ST educational reporting world, based on one article and the Times support of the no vote on the levy -- but Central Mom is right -- there is a LOT going on that is out of Linda's control, in terms of budgets, editors, etc. When she does something that is so right -- I agree with Melissa. We should notice and appreciate it.

Also, while I am cynical enough to think that the District administration may stoop to the "give them something little to get them off our backs, while we continue to ignore thm on all the major issues" ploy, I don't for a moment think that this is paradigm is at work in the Times reporting and editorial departments. I just think that Linda saw something, mulled it over for awhile, and eventually things coalesced to the point where marshalled the Times' resources on it to daylight it. All of which makes me very happy.

Thanks, Linda!

dan dempsey said...

Linda,

Let the day-lighting continue ....

There is plenty of material for a Pulitzer if the Times will turn you loose.

Charlie Mas said...

I remember when a story broke about a US Senator who was in trouble for inappropriate contact with a young woman. At the time, a Washington columnist - I think it was Maureen Dowd - wrote that everyone knew that women should not get into an elevator with him. I remember how, at the time, I thought she should have outed the horndog as soon as she knew. I have come to see that as an unfair expectation.

Reporters can't and shouldn't report on everything.

In addition, there are a lot of people - intelligent, well-intentioned people - who think that the Education Reform agenda is a wonderful thing. They aren't expecting scathing exposes about a Gates/Broad takeover of public education. For them it would be busines as usual, if not a mild positive.