Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reporter’s ‘everyone knows’ lede inappropriate

"Everyone knows there's an education budget crisis," Katiera Winfrey reported yesterday for the News on 6 ("Broken Arrow Church Shows Members How To Take Action To Fix Education Budget").

Not a great lede, I would respectfully submit. According to data compiled from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System and provided by the state Department of Education, total education spending in Oklahoma, even when adjusted for inflation, is higher today ($6,695,978,193) than it was a decade ago ($6,115,624,776). Per-pupil spending is roughly flat (up slightly from $9,775 to $9,781). 

Some people—though certainly not "everyone"—may deem this a "crisis." Others would say, "No, it seems like $244,525 for a classroom of 25 kids should be more than enough. The 'crisis' is that the schools are performing so poorly even with all this money." In any case, it's not for a reporter to take sides, declaring up front that "everyone knows" there's a crisis.

The lede is even less defensible given the Broken Arrow dateline. Total education spending in Broken Arrow, even when adjusted for inflation, is much higher today ($191,478,105) than it was a decade ago ($139,014,756), which could help explain the palatial luxury seen below. Per-pupil spending is higher too—up from $9,120 to $10,191.

In short, it's important for journalists to tell the full story. This is especially urgent in light of Gallup's September 2016 finding (“Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low”) that "Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media."

I'm not accusing Winfrey of intentional bias. Like the film critic Pauline Kael, who couldn't understand how Nixon beat McGovern (given that everyone she knew had voted for McGovern), many journalists don’t realize that their J-school training and subsequent existence in the media's center-left epistemic bubble (especially in Tulsa) have conditioned them to report the news less than "fully, accurately, and fairly."

Here's hoping for more balanced reporting in the future.

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