One of my lifelong inspirations has been my journalism professor, mentor, and advisor at Ohio State: Martha Brian, a lifelong newspaperwoman and one seriously tough customer.
I knew how to write when I took her entry level reporting class, but Ms. Brian taught me to be a journalist. She taught me to dig for the truth, stick to the facts, check my sources, write concisely, meet the deadlines, think on my feet, never accept anything at face value, and always ask questions.
Ms. Brian suffered no fools, and she could spot a slacker a mile away. Her class was the flunk-out class. As the gate-keeper of the School of Journalism at The Ohio State University, you had to pass her class in order to progress. As budding journalist, she hammered four primary rules into us:
- News stories should be 100% factual– no excuses. If a student journalist wrote a story with any factual error, she gave them a zero for that story– regardless of how exciting the story or how beautifully it was written.
- Journalists meet their deadlines. To teach us this, she locked the door of the class room when the bell rang. It didn’t matter if you were sprinting down the hall toward the door, you didn’t get in, and you got a zero for the day’s work. No make-ups. No excuses.
- Journalists investigate stories and seek out credible sources. We were taught to ask questions– lots of questions. We investigated and wrote one original news story during every class period.
- The public has a right to know the truth. And it’s a journalists job to tell them. We were instilled with the ideal that journalists should be beholden to no one– not corporations, not politicians, not religious groups, not advertisers, not political parties, not activist movements– because it was our job to be unbiased in our reporting of the news to the American people. (Remember, these were the days of Woodward and Bernstein.)
Oh, Ms. Brian, how times have changed.
It’s a good thing Ms. Brian isn’t alive to see the degradation of our profession. I can see her now in heaven in her neatly tailored suit, well-manicured hair, and little pillbox hat– a scotch on the rocks in one hand and a cigarette in the other– shouting “Error of fact! Error of fact!” at the blogosphere, sneering at FOX News’ “fair and balanced” slogan, and cursing the disappearance of news print and paid journalists.
Ms. Brian’s Legacy and the Mexican American Studies debate
In the spirit of my mentor and the public’s right to know the truth about Mexican American Studies (MAS) debate, I’m calling on fellow bloggers and journalists to:
- Stick to the facts and forget the spin.
- Don’t take anything at face value.
- Ask more questions.
- Fight for transparency.
- Check multiple sources and cite those sources. (We are the storytellers– not the authorities.)
- Drop the editorializing– unless, of course, you’re writing an editorial.
- Stop the name-calling, the bullying, and the put-downs.
And, again in the spirit of Ms. Brian, here are a some of my unanswered questions about the MAS debate:
- What is the real budget for the MAS program and the other programs under Ethnic Studies? I have seen three budget figures published– one provided by TUSD School Board President Mark Stegeman and two others published by the Three Sonorans. I want full transparency in the funding for this and other TUSD programs supported by the desegregation monies.
- What does the evaluation data reveal? MAS supporters claim that the program has been evaluated and proven effective multiple times. The Arizona Daily Star reported that a TUSD statistician found no statistical difference in graduation rates when he compared MAS graduates with others in TUSD. Dr. Stegeman’s statement said it resulted in 10 more graduations per year over the three years studies. Where is the truth here? How many studies have been conducted? How were they conducted? Who conducted them? Was quantitative or descriptive (ie, more casual) data collected? Where is the data published?
- What text books are being used in the MAS classes? I think the MAS program should provide a complete list of text books– since the course content is coming under fire from the right wing. (They’re teaching communism! They’re teaching Chicano Nationalism!) MAS supporters claim that the right is “cherry-picking” inflammatory passages from the texts (watch the attached video for some doozies). OK, I wouldn’t put it past them to be using that tactic, but how does the public know what they are teaching when no book list has been provided?
- What are the course descriptions for the MAS classes? The curriculum link on the MAS website is very vague. Surely, course descriptions exist. Why not make them public?
- Why has the MAS Community Advisory Board backed away from TUSD’s public forum? After the takeover of the TUSD meeting on April 26, MAS supporters chided the TUSD board for not holding the following meeting at a larger location. Now that the TUSD board is willing to hold a public forum– so all voices can be heard– they’re backing away from a meeting that the University of Arizona MAS faculty (many of whom also serve on the MAS Community Advisory Board) called for. (I guess that link has now disappeared from the TucsonCitizen.com.)
- While we’re on the subject of the MAS Community Advisory Board: Are their meetings open to the public? If so, how are they publicized? How are people appointed to this board? How long are their terms of service? Are board members compensated monetarily for their time? How often do they meet? Why is there no diversity on the board? What is their relationship to the MAS programs at the UA and TUSD and to the TUSD Board? What is their authority over a taxpayer-funded public school program? Mark Evans’ article from the Tucson Citizen morgue explained the origins of the MAS program and the advisory board, but I still have questions.
- How do the multiple familial and collegial relationships through the past four decades and across the multiple MAS support groups impact what is unfolding? Reading the Tucson Weekly’s article about MAS program and Chicano Nationalism movement of the 1970s connected many dots for me. There is a lot of cross pollination out there.
- And the bottomline: Has the MAS program improved graduation rates among Latino youth? The 1998 article said the Latino dropout rate was 8.33%. What is it today?
And, finally, what is being done to help the tens of thousands of TUSD students who are not in MAS succeed? What is TUSD doing for those Mexican American, African American, Native American, refugee, mixed race, and poor non-minority students who need our help? Focusing so intensely on this one small program is clouding the bigger picture: Education in Arizona is in trouble, and public education nationwide is under attack. As long as were fighting and drawing lines in the sand, nothing will progress. We need full transparency, and we need a public forum where everyone’s voices can be heard– not just those who shout the loudest. We need to come together to fix this– or Tom Horne will fix it for us.
UPDATE: And while we’re on the accuracy in reporting theme, check out this story. MAS smear campaigns have resulted in a defamation of character lawsuit.
TUSD’s Ethnic Studies Saga Continues: John Ward files lawsuit against TUSD