Over at This Week Russo raises the question of when/what to post that you glean from various conversations, in particular with the media. It’s worth reading because it raises some complicated questions about the medium.
For Eduwonk’s money though the answer is pretty straightforward and different than Russo’s. He says: “Everything’s on the record unless you tell me otherwise.” Here the policy is exactly the opposite: It’s off-the-record unless we agree otherwise. I’m not a journalist and this is a blog, not some sort of streaming real-time dissemination tool about what’s happening in the ed policy world with an obligation to relay everything that comes across the author’s desk. Consequently, I choose whether or not something rises to the level of reader interest and/or appropriateness to post it here. Put more plainly, there are plenty of things I am aware of that never make it into this blog for various reasons. While that’s not so different than how professional journalists operate, there are still some differences.
First, in order to function effectively as a professional people have to be confident that emails, phone calls, and conversations with me are strictly off-the-blog-record and that I’d never repeat or relay something without express permission. I could, for instance, discuss plans and initiatives that various organizations are launching but that would break confidences and I’m not prepared to do that. Of course, if I pick things up through the rumor mill that’s a different kettle of fish, but if a colleague asks me to review something for their organization or to bounce some ideas around then don’t expect to learn about it on this site until it’s made public.
In addition to other policy types, I talk daily with folks from the media, both reporters and editorial types. They have to be confident that I’m not going to swipe their ideas or preview their stories. I’d probably get a lot of new readers if I telegraphed a big news story that was coming in some outlet but it would be an enormous breach of faith if the reporter had contacted me about it and I then used that information public in advance of the story running. In fact, perhaps I even take this too far. For instance I waited to post about the AFT’s new blog until after Michelle Davis’ story in Ed Week had run since she called me for it and my post would reflect the same things I told her. But, I’d rather err on the side of caution.
I also review proposals and manuscripts for foundations and publishers so often I’ll know that something might be coming on a particular question but again, I can’t post that. Finally, I work with public officials and serve on a public body myself, and those folks, too, have to be able to trust that things they say will be treated with discretion. I work in the policy world, that’s what pays the bills, and the ability to work candidly and sometimes confidentially with people is key to being able to operate in that world.
On the other hand, what readers get here is a very high degree of transparency. They can be confident that if I’m writing about an organization I’ve consulted for, or serve on the board of, or that gives grants to support/or has supported my work, paid me to speak or consult, or generally where there is a real or perceived conflict of interest etc…I’ll point that out. So, while an item might not include every tidbit, readers can be confident I’m not, for instance, touting someone’s reforms or ideas while doing work for them without sharing it with readers.
The great thing about blogging is that it’s a highly democratic and market-oriented medium. If someone else wants to sail closer to the wind and, for instance, out upcoming stories in newspapers and magazines then that’s their business (and of course media outlets are always competing to be first on a story anyway so that pressure is already present to some extent in the public debate about these issues). How that would be received and what the impact would be on the writer’s ability to get such information in the future is an open question. Drudge is one example of something like that but my guess is that nothing in the eduworld would likely rise to that level and be able to survive while behaving like that.
Nonetheless I’m confident that readers of this blog know that they’re getting one take on things that is necessarily run through a few filters. And, readership is sustained and enthusiastic enough that I think this model works well and adds some value. And, there are different kinds of blogs out there so you’re going to get a little of everything and I suspect the issues I raise above are more localized to niche policy sorts of blogs though every blog makes editorial decisions of some sort or another.
I still hold out hope that Education Week will start a more “expose” oriented blog if they’re willing to take the heat. Journalists like the folks they have there can operate with a different set of rules and it might bring more stuff out into the open. In the meantime, as Don Rumsfeld might say, you’ve got to take the edublog you have not the edublog you might want!