Anthony Cody was stunned to be rejected by the Education Writers Association when he applied for an award. Only last year, he won a first prize from EWA for his writing. But now he no longer meets their criteria as an independent journalist.
Cody tells the story:
The Education Writers Association has decided that, although I was awarded a first prize for my writing just last year, I am no longer permitted to submit my work for consideration for future awards. Leaders of the organization have decided that I do not meet their definition of a journalist. Investigative blogger and author Mercedes Schneider recently applied for membership, and was likewise denied on the same grounds.
I think this decision constricts the vital public discourse, and excludes those of us not on the payroll of mainstream corporate media.
The EWA has two forms of membership; Journalist and Community. I joined the EWA when I was still working full time as a teacher coach for the Oakland schools. Since writing about education was not my primary occupation, I signed up as a “community member.” This status did not prevent me from submitting my work for their award competition, or from participating in their events, though as a non-journalist I was not allowed to pose questions at their events.
In 2010, my work was awarded a “special citation” by EWA. Two years ago, my dialogue with the Gates Foundation won second prize. Last year, I was awarded first prize in the opinion category for my posts about the Common Core.
Neither Cody nor Schneider met the EWA requirements for being an “independent journalist,” but Cody notes that other bloggers who are paid to blog do qualify under EWA guidelines.
Both Schneider and myself are completely independent. Unlike many of those accepted as journalists by EWA, neither of us are funded by major corporate philanthropies that actively seek to shape news coverage. Nor are we paid by unions or any other organization, for profit or non-profit….
One of the roles my blog has played is to challenge the Obama administration publicly, in a way few mainstream media outlets choose to do. When President Obama criticized his own policies back in 2011, it was my blog that obliged the Department of Education to respond, as covered a few days later in the New York Times. In fact, the headline of that piece was “Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing.” And again, on December 19, my blog challenged President Obama’s assertion, at his press conference, that test scores for African American and Latino students are on the rise in states that have initiated reform. This is the sort of general statement that is left un-interrogated by most mainstream reporters, and thus becomes part of the received wisdom, even though it is contradicted by a mountain of evidence.
My blog, and those of many other education bloggers, are truly independent of the subtle and not so subtle controls exerted by employers and publishers. Where else but from independent bloggers like Bob Braun in Newark, New Jersey, would we get hard hitting investigations of corruption there? How else, but as a result of the relentless digging of Mercedes Schneider, would we get the real truth about the origins of the Common Core? You will not find members of any Gates-funded education “journalism” projects doing such investigations.
It could be that the EWA is embarrassed by the active presence of bloggers such as myself in their events and in their awards. I recently published a book that systematically challenges the Gates Foundation, and, not surprisingly, the Gates Foundation is a leading sponsor of the EWA.
But the functioning of a democracy requires a free and independent press. While the EWA asserts that it “retains sole editorial control over its programming and content,” the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is #1 on its list of current sustaining partners is hard to overlook.
Cody prominently features this quote from cartoonist Robert Crumb, who now lives in France and was responding to the killing of cartoonists in Paris:
You don’t have journalists [in America] anymore, what they have is public relations people. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.