Chalkbeat is a news organization that covers New York City and recently expanded to Memphis. It was previously called Gotham Schools.

Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University recently complained that Chalkbeat is biased in favor of charter schools. He notes that it is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, both of which are strong supporters of charter schools.

Katz quotes a letter written by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and other community leaders, pointing out Chalkbeat’s unfair coverage of pro-charter and anti-charter activities. Chalkboard failed to send a reporter to cover a citywide rally organized by Community Education Councils.

Chalkboard published the letter of protest in full, with the signatories.

Haimson wrote:

“Rather than sending one of your reporters to cover this event, you only posted a short blurb clearly taken from the press release after the fact. Chalkbeat’s failure to assign a reporter to the event glaringly contrasts with your close and detailed coverage of every move made by the charter operators and their backers. Indeed, you published two different stories on the charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, three different stories on the Albany rally for charters (though you failed to disclose that Gov. Cuomo was actually behind it) , and on March 29 you ran two stories on reactions to the budget bills, BOTH from the point of view of the charter operators.

“Even more importantly, you have failed to cover any of the substantive issues and reasons behind our anger, including how unprecedented these charter provisions are, how they apply only to NYC, how they will detract from the city’s already underfunded capital plan and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, while thousands of public school students will continue sit in trailers or in overcrowded classrooms, without art, music, science or therapy and counseling rooms, or on waiting lists for Kindergarten.” (Full disclosure: I am an unpaid member of the board of directors of Class Size Matters, but had no role in writing this letter.)

Chalkbeat responded that they wished they had attended the event in question.

This exchange reveals the serious problem that journalistic outlets face today. Can they survive without outside funding when so much information is available for free on the Internet? Can they be independent when their survival depends on funding from foundations or funders with a strong point of view?

To my knowledge, Gates does not support any organization–journalistic or think tank or advocacy–that is critical of charter schools or high-stakes testing. I would love to be proven wrong. To my knowledge, Walton does not support any organization or think tank or academic program unless it is a strong supporter of charter schools and, in many cases, vouchers. Both foundations are supporters of privatization of public education. There are good reporters at Chalkbeat, but like Katz, I worry about the publication’s capacity to be independent when funded by the billionaire boys’ club.