Thursday, February 16, 2012

You might be a journalist if ...

If you've ever posted a comment about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on this blog or any online forum, you're apparently among the "thousands of bloggers, journalists and correspondents" currently covering CMS,  according to a pitch PR chief LaTarzja Henry made to the school board Tuesday.

Board member Tom Tate raised an eyebrow at the notion that those "thousands" are comparable to the "approximately 10 full-time reporters" Henry tallied as being on the beat in 2000.  Posting a comment,  or even creating a blog,  is not the same as being a journalist who covers education,  he said.

Tate is right,  and no one appreciates his making the distinction more than I do.  But Henry is also right in saying the 24-hour interactive nature of digital coverage and commentary changes the game for CMS (as well as those of us who do cover the beat for a living).

We got a perfect illustration just a few hours later.  At 6 p.m. Tuesday, CMS hit send on an email from interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh to all employees outlining plans to discard controversial CMS end-of-year tests and value-added ratings in favor of similar measures being designed by the state.  Hattabaugh planned to make that public in his report to the school board at the tail end of the meeting that started at 6.

At 6:12, someone posted anonymously on this blog: "CMS Teacher Effectiveness project will be disbanded and so will CMS created summative assessments (except fine arts and world languages) in favor of using state measures. Just emailed to CMS employees ahead of tonight's meeting."

That two-sentence post contained both a major inaccuracy  --  the "talent effectiveness project" that involves teachers and other employees remains in place  --  and enough solid, breaking news to help me produce a front-page story for Wednesday's paper (and Tuesday night's online report).  While the school board meeting was in progress, Henry scrambled to get me a copy of the email and help me track down Hattabaugh in the back halls of the Government Center.

The next morning,  broadcast news jumped on the story.  By the time CMS sent out a news release shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday,  it served mainly to elicit chuckles from reporters who were all over the story -- thanks to an anonymous "correspondent" who broke the news.

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