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The decline of NJSpotlight News as an unbiased news organization continues. Here are two recent examples.
First, NJ Spotlight covered Monday’s Assembly Education Committee hearings on learning loss caused by pandemic-related school closures, but only from one point of view. In the video piece — entitled “Teachers ask for less learning-loss messaging, fewer state assessments” — NJSpotlight provides excerpts of testimony only from the NJEA and several administrators, all of whom call for less testing. Tellingly, NJSpotlight’s title characterizes the NJEA’s testimony as speaking for teachers, which is exactly what the NJEA lobbyist Fran Pfeffer claimed to be doing, and dutifully echoed Pfeffer’s testimony that repeatedly said: “Stop the testing.” But a NJEA lobbyist speaks for the NJEA.
Notably, NJSpotlight ignored the testimony of Paula White, Executive Director of JerseyCan, who underscored the necessity of student assessments because having the data is essential for remediation of learning loss:
“Clear, timely formative and summative student assessment data are vital for accelerating student learning because data tracks success and defines the scope of lingering challenges.”
By comparison, the Star-Ledger’s article on the hearings mentioned White’s testimony and described the NJEA’s views as its own, not as speaking for teachers.
Why the curious omission of White? Recall that in 2018, White was confirmed by the state Board of Education to be the assistant commissioner of education. But the job was rescinded hours later “in a move that sparked speculation around possible teachers union opposition to White,” according to the Star-Ledger. Did that have anything to do with NJSpotlight‘s ignoring White’s testimony?
The bottom line is that NJSpotlight chose to characterize the hearings in accord with the NJEA’s longstanding opposition to standardized tests like the Start Strong assessment. A reader of the NJSpotlight story would think that all the views were uniform and that standardized tests were complicating the recovery from learning loss, which is strikingly similar to the NJEA’s stance. Of course, the NJEA would like nothing better than to bury learning loss as an issue so that New Jersey parents will forget the NJEA’s role in keeping school closed, and NJSpotlight appears willing to help.
(For the record, Sunlight is not alone in its take on NJSpotlight‘s report. Please see NJEdReport‘s excellent piece on it.)
But there is also a second example of NJSpotlight‘s curious approach to news coverage. It’s not often that you have a “news” story serve as a prop for a dark money Super PAC, but that’s what happened with NJSpotlight and the Education Truth Project (ETP). In a piece on this fall’s school board elections, NJSpotlight interviews Matt Kazmierczak, founder of ETP, a dark money Super PAC that looks an awful lot like an NJEA front. But NJSpotlight is unconcerned about that.
Why would NJSpotlight choose to interview an obscure federal, dark money PAC about New Jersey school board elections in the first place? And how did they even know about a group that has only been in existence for five months and has a mere 191 Facebook followers? What we do know is that the NJEA-friendly ETP got free publicity from NJSpotlight and posted the interview on its website and Facebook page. Curious.
All of which begs the question: “Why would NJ Spotlight cover the news in such a curious way?” The answer stares you in the face when you go to the NJSpotlight website: an omnipresent digital ad from the NJEA: “Providing support for NJ Spotlight News.” But this ad is just the most recent example of a long history of NJEA financial support for NJSpotlight and its parent (see here and here). And this is not the first time NJSpotlight has provided disparate treatment for NJEA-friendly points-of-view versus NJEA-unfriendly points of view.
As we have asked before, what has happened to NJSpotlight? We all know that the news business has been struggling financially and seeking new revenue streams. We hope this does not reflect the shrewd co-optation of New Jersey media by deep-pocketed special interests like the NJEA.