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News Media Panel Says a Trusting Relationship May Be Key to Accurate Coverage

By Adriana Rozas Rivera |

Reporters and superintendents both want to tell the stories of school districts. Three national education reporters pointed to the importance of superintendent-reporter relationships that contribute to those stories, particularly during a pandemic.

The panel “Education and the Front Page,” took place at the AASA national conference on Thursday, Feb. 18.

The trio of news media professionals shared some advice with their audience on how school leaders can help achieve transparency and build community.

Laura Meckler, a national education reporter for The Washington Post, said superintendents need to actively develop relationships with reporters, instead of waiting for a crisis or breaking news for their first contact.

“Rather than view the reporters as somebody to keep at arm’s length, not deal with, hope they don’t call,  actually hope that they do call,” Meckler said.

Erica Green, a reporter for The New York Times, called for superintendents to be transparent with the news media, regardless of whether the story is reporting positive or less flattering developments.

“I’ve always established a relationship with a superintendent where I just reciprocate what I receive,” Green said. “They have all known that they need to just be open and honest and transparent with me.”

Having an adversarial relationship with the press doesn’t serve anyone, she added.

Andrew Ujifusa, an assistant editor with  Education Week, said reporters and school leaders both serve the public, despite their differing professional roles.

“We’re doing our jobs. There’s a certain overlap in that reporters are, in a certain sense, public servants,” Ujifusa said. “We have a responsibility to the public in the same general way that superintendents do.”

When the panel was asked who reporters consider experts in education, Green highlighted the importance of having diverse voices show up in stories.

“There are education experts, which are people who study education, and trends and data,” Green said. “And then there are education experts like parents, whose experiences carry just as much weight. And students whose experiences carry just as much weight.”

The reporters emphasized the importance of identifying credible sources in their work. Meckler echoed Green’s sentiment, explaining that reporters must  weed through personal opinions and be effective fact-checkers to deliver accurate stories that capture a range of views.

“Our job is to sort of combine people’s views and senses and opinions with facts that we’re able to discern from what we view to be trustworthy sources,” Meckler said.

Ujifusa said access to schools and educators can be difficult at times, especially during a public health crisis. Granting the news media access depends on trust that exists among between superintendents, educators and reporters.

“It really does vary by district, and it can often hinge on factors that I don’t know about or don’t understand,” Ujifusa said.

Teachers can provide unique insight on students’ academic progress, particularly during a pandemic and remote learning when teachers are the closest link between the child and the school.

“There is nothing like talking to a teacher,” Ujifusa added.

(Adriana Rozas Rivera is a graduate student at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and an intern with AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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