LA School Report, the three-year-old education news site started and funded by school reform supporter Jamie Alter Lynton, has merged with a New York site started by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown (right) that is even more closely associated with charter school advocacy. Michael Janofsky, the former New York Times reporter who was editing LA School Report, has left. The new editor is Laura Greanias, until recently the city editor of the LA Daily News and a former editor at the LA Times.
The staff at LA School Report will now be under The Seventy Four, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site with the mission of exposing an education system “in crisis…to challenge the status quo, expose corruption and inequality, and champion the heroes who bring positive change to our schools.” The name is a reference to 74 million students attending public schools in the United States. Brown, who is editor-in-chief, is part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn tenure protections for teachers in New York, and her efforts are anathema to the teacher unions.
Lynton has moved to New York City and says she needed a partner to keep LA School Report going.
From the LA Times story by Howard Blume:
[Seventy Four's] entry into Los Angeles has alarmed union leaders and some supporters of traditional public education. They say it could undermine trust in the reporting of education controversies. They had expressed similar concerns when The Times recently accepted outside funding to supplement its education coverage...
Critics call The Seventy Four an advocacy effort on behalf of a pro-charter school, anti-union agenda. The organization, critics say, uses opinion pieces and reported stories to promote charter schools and to find fault with traditional campuses and teachers unions.
Not so, said co-founder and Chief Executive Romy Drucker.
“We try to highlight what’s working,” Drucker said. “Part of the mission also is highlighting what’s broken and needs to be fixed and highlighting the solutions.”
The position of those on the teachers union side of the debate over charter schools is concern about news coverage in LA going forward. "LA School Report has been a legitimate and credible news organization,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “[The 74] is not.” LA Board of Education president Steven Zimmer also was negative about the change. According to the Times story, he urged Janofsky to stay on as editor. "Truth itself, as it relates to public education in Los Angeles, will be filtered through an orthodox reform lens at every turn,” Zimmer said of The Seventy Four.
Alexander Russo, the former editor of LA School Report who had a falling out with Lynton, writes at the Washington Monthly that the merger raises questions about the quality of Los Angeles schools coverage going forward. Initial takes have not been positive, he writes, though Campbell Brown dismissed some of the criticism has been about union officials, and Zimmer, not embracing coverage by "actual reporters."
From Russo's piece:
In particular, charter critics in LA are worried about the impact of The Seventy Four’s arrival on the delicate and controversial issue of expanding charter school options for LAUSD parents: “Is there a connection between the Seventy Four’s takeover of LA School Report and the Broad-Walmart plan to privatize LAUSD schools? Of course there is,” said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl in the LA Times piece.
The LA Times is also funded in part by the Broad Foundation, which is not indicated until the bottom of Blume’s piece.
To be sure, publishers Lynton and Brown share a journalistic background and an impatient advocate approach to education issues. Neither adheres to the balanced/objective model of journalism that sometimes results in the traditional “he said/she said” approach to story selection and news coverage.
Logistically, it also makes sense. Lynton and her family have reportedly moved to New York City, and Lynton was bankrolling the site on her own. With an annual budget reported at $4 million, The Seventy Four is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
However, I’m not as clear how taking on a West Coast bureau fits into The Seventy Four’s larger plans or fills an appetite from readers.
National interest in Los Angeles is notoriously thin, despite the city’s importance.
The way it will apparently work is that the editor and two reporters at LA School Report will now be paid by The Seventy Four, which employs 11 staff members in New York plus a reporter in Washington. Lynton will join the governing board of The Seventy Four.
Greanias' title under the merger is West Coast bureau chief of The Seventy Four and executive editor of LA School Report.
Here's the flackage by The Seventy Four itself. Excerpt:
The 74 and LA School Report – two rapidly growing education news sites – will partner to expand coverage of education in Los Angeles and America’s second-largest school district, the founders of the sites announced today.
In less than four years, LA School Report has become a must-read for insiders and everyday Angelenos alike. The site has followed the politics and policy of the public school system in Los Angeles, shining a light on underreported but critical developments in education.
“The 74 brings with it a deep bench of veteran journalists, and together with our team at LA School Report we will be positioned to expand our reach and deliver a more robust news site that helps keep education front and center throughout the city,” said Jamie Lynton, founder of LA School Report who will join The 74’s board as part of the partnership.
“All of us at The 74 and LA School Report firmly believe there is a real opportunity to expand coverage throughout Los Angeles and the West Coast and put an even greater spotlight on the system,” said Campbell Brown, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The74Million.org. “We will bring the same kind of aggressive and substantive coverage that has defined our reporting since we launched to an even greater audience.”
By the way, the Los Angeles Times story on the merger carries this disclosure at the bottom about the outside sources of income that finance education coverage at the newspaper these days. In case you had not seen how things are done now:
Editor’s note: Education Matters receives funding from a number of foundations, including one mentioned in this article. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation. Under terms of the grants, the Times retains complete control over editorial content.