This past week the Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism were announced, and we were elated that we didn’t win! (We forgot to enter. 😉 ) But another Southern California local news outlet did, for an investigative series they produced on corruption in Centinela Valley Union High School District.
We’re exceedingly proud any time people who give a damn about our public education system use their craft, their storytelling ability, their persistence, and their passion for justice to root out corruption. Children only have the adults around them to defend them — when profiteers steal from school districts, they steal from children. When unthinking teachers or thoughtless administrators crush student aspirations or demean them, they abuse their power over vulnerable people.
Perhaps the Pulitzer committee wanted to recognize that in the Local Reporting division, education reporting serves a crucial watchdog function.
The Daily Breeze, one of nine daily newspapers of the Los Angeles News Group, also won the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for community journalism, as well as the prestigious National Headliner Award for Investigative Reporting.
School board members with business interests can pretend they care about schools and get elected…before you know it, they funnel lucrative contracts to their businesses or business associates. Or perhaps, in the case of the Centinela Valley Union High School District, a conniving superintendent managed to scoop up an outsized salary and numerous perks thinking that a compliant school board would simply rubber stamp his excessive pay and benefits package.
So this win is a win for the parents, community members, and teachers who took their outrage to the public school board meetings and demanded Jose Fernandez’s firing. It’s tremendous validation for the reporting team who uncovered multifaceted mismanagement of public money and abuse of public trust. And it comes at a time when newspaper circulation is down, the internet seems to vanish many of the revenue sources print journalism used to rely on, many journalists are laid off or are asked to help deliver papers too, and people seem to pay more attention to reality tv than local news. So it’s an extremely gratifying win for local news as well.
At K-12 News Network, we’re happy that established tools of investigative journalism — public records requests, talking to lots of people (and preserving their anonymity if need be), digging and comparing records, showing up at public meetings — still serve communities well. It’s what a band of Angelenos did using our resources over a period of about 18 months to question key aspects of the Apple/Pearson contract to supply Los Angeles Unified with “$1 billion” in tablets and software. We blogged, questioned, and propped up a key bond oversight committee person when it looked as if the LAUSD school board found his impertinent questions about the use of a bond fund to purchase ipads cause for not re-appointing him to that inconvenient oversight committee. We chatted up journalists at established outlets. Annie Gilbertson at KPCC did fantastic work showing how former Superintendent Deasy was exceedingly chummy with Apple and Pearson executives in the couple of years before they were awarded the lucrative contract.
Instead of embedding journalists with parents, what K12NN does instead is empower and support parents and community members to begin thinking of themselves, and acting like, they are part of the local investigative news eco-system. That means encouraging grassroots opinion pieces, first-person reporting, and other people-powered media. We amplified voices of people actually affected by both the LAUSD ipad issue and the MiSiS class scheduling software meltdown. And we’re thrilled that after 18 months of blogging, a successful campaign to restore a key watchdog, and a demand by LAUSD parents to have the Civil Grand Jury of the Los Angeles Superior Court open an investigation into misspent iPad funds and the $200 million MiSiS disaster, the FBI and the SEC are investigating former Superintendent John Deasy.
We value our credibility and the opportunity to give a platform for people to watchdog their local schools. To that end we embrace AP Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law guidelines, belong to the Society of Professional Journalists and aspire to their Code of Ethics, monitor the Online News Associations development of ethics for online news outlets, and observe the guidelines for community conversations and prosocial online behavior as laid out by the women’s blogging network, BlogHer. We continue to refine our understanding of optimal blogging and journalism practices and seek inspiration in the work of Prof. Kim Pearson on culturally responsive computational journalism and Prof. Michelle Ferrier’s work on fully inclusive data journalism in the service of equity/social justice.
We’ve also evolved our own Ethics Code to affirm the principles we want to see in a public education system devoted to education justice, and principles we should adhere to ourselves in the pursuit of education justice. Join us in grassroots investigative journalism on the education beat.
Click the image above and sign on to our Ethics Code! You’ll get a badge for your site and more information on launching investigative journalism that scrutinizes issues in your local school’s community and the company of a growing network of citizen media makers to support each other.