When we launched the earliest version of Education News Colorado in the summer of 2007 (called HeadFirst Colorado at the time) it was a one-person (me) operation and its main feature was an opinion blog. The idea was to create a forum where people could vigorously yet politely debate education issues of the moment. A blog seemed an excellent platform, because it allowed for close to real-time give and take.
In those early days, I recruited a group of prominent education experts to write for the blog. I tried for an even distribution across the philosophical spectrum, but fell somewhat short of that. I wanted people to feel they could speak their minds, so in those early days I allowed everyone to use pseudonyms when posting. Over time, I decided that was a mistake. Most people were respectful, but some posts were snarky and without actual names attached, there was no accountability for the snark.
No one stopped blogging when I asked people to start using their real names. Some may have modulated their tone, but everyone kept writing. And over time I added bloggers, perhaps a bit more representative of the diversity of ideas about education reform.
Today the blog, now dwarfed by our news site, faces another transition point. Perhaps it’s just that school people are exhausted, their nerves frayed at semester’s end, but some recent exchanges have rubbed feelings raw. Three different bloggers or commenters have said they’ve had enough, and are withdrawing from the conversation.
Until now, I’ve taken a laissez-faire attitude toward blog posts and comments. I have erred on the side of running comments that are, shall we say, pointed in tone. Our published commenting policy prohibits ad hominem attacks, though I have discovered that what one person views as a spirited conversation might be viewed on the other side of that debate as an assault on integrity or character. The line between the two is not always as clear and bright as we might like to believe.
What has become clear to me is that some things about the blog have to change. I do not want people chased away because they feel hounded by critics. On the other hand, I do not want to stifle vigorous debate because someone’s feelings might get hurt. So I am going to spend some time during our one week hiatus between Christmas and New Year’s thinking about how to navigate those tricky waters and make changes to the blog.
Here is where you, as regular readers, can help. Imagine that the blog is starting from scratch. What would you like it to be? Do you prefer longer posts or very brief ones? Do you like posts that consist primarily of links to articles or posts from elsewhere? Or do you prefer original commentaries? Do you like a wide variety of bloggers who may not post frequently, or a smaller number who write once or more each week?
Should elected officials (school board members, for example) and school officials (superintendents and the like) be part of the mix, or should we bar them from blogging on the site? What kind of guidelines should there be for comments on blog posts? Should I err on the side of letting most comments run? Or should I play a more active role in setting the tone by sending the snarkier comments back for revisions?
Please send me your thoughts.
I’m also interested in any specific and constructive ideas readers might have about getting a wider variety of points of view on the blog. It’s an ongoing challenge to have a range of opinions equitably represented.
One problem, I think, is that some education policy folks have more time on their hands than do educators. Someone working on education policy from a foundation or non-profit advocacy organization spends a chunk of most days thinking and writing about education policy.
Teachers, meanwhile, are busy teaching, principals are occupied with running schools, etc. They come home tired and have limited time to write. As a result, the blog tends to get skewed toward the points of view of people who have the luxury of time to think and write about education rather than those actually doing the work every day.
Given that reality, how would you suggest we address this imbalance without muzzling anyone?
If you believe the blog is skewed toward the Obama/Duncan/Bloomberg/Democrats for Education Reform view of things, you’re right. It is. And, despite the fact that my personal sympathies for the most part reside in that camp, that’s not how I want the blog to be. So, if you subscribe to a different set of beliefs and like to write, consider becoming a regular contributor. I hear a fair number of complaints about the blog’s skewed perspective but I don’t get many people stepping forward and volunteering to help balance it.
Watch this space in early January for information about the new and improved EdNews blog.
Meanwhile, enjoy the holidays. Take a real break. That’s what we will be doing.
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