Politico Pro alert bears similarities to Education Week story

John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei of Politico. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei of Politico. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

The New York Times and Politico got into a spat yesterday over credit. David Carr, the New York Times’s media critic, had broken a story about the ending of Piers Morgan’s prime-time show on CNN. Politico’s Dylan Byers, meanwhile, posted a story on the same news, citing “network sources.” Some Twitter traffic followed:

The glory of this fight derived from its openness. Onlookers could note the date-stamps on the stories, evaluate the crediting and reach their own conclusions as to whether Byers had appropriately cited the New York Times. Journalism on the Internet is self-auditing.

As opposed to journalism that resides behind a steep paywall. Politico Pro provides subscription coverage for several key Washington topic areas, including defense, health care, energy, transportation and education. Prior to the launch of Politico Pro Education last September, a Politico editor said that the service would include “exclusive and customizable features.

One of those exclusives is Politico Pro’s so-called “whiteboard” updates. These are essentially newsy e-mails that get blasted out to Politico Pro clients at a rate that only Politico can muster. Last Friday, one of those Politico Pro whiteboards contained this news, according to a leak today to the Erik Wemple Blog:

From: POLITICO Pro Whiteboard [mailto:politicoemail@politicopro.com]
Sent: Friday, February 21, 2014 11:56 AM
Subject: Idaho’s new flexibility could prove positive for California

2/21/14 11:55 AM EST
The Education Department has granted Idaho flexibility regarding field testing of new Common Core-aligned assessments this spring for all of its students in math and English language arts. As a result, the state won’t have to collect or report any data on how its students are performing.
That might give California hope. The state asked for the same flexibility, but it has yet to hear from the department. Last year, California passed legislation that calls for an end to old standardized tests and data reporting while the new Smarter Balanced assessments are piloted. The move angered the Education Department and Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to pull federal funds from the state. But if Idaho gets a similar deal, California just might, too.
More than 3 million students are expected to pilot the new tests in California. Montana is the only other state to win flexibility over field testing all of its students.
Idaho also received a one-year waiver allowing it to field test alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Those standards were developed by the National Center and State Collaborative.
— Caitlin Emma

You’ve received this POLITICO Pro content because your customized settings include: Education Whiteboards. To change your alert settings, please go to

A perfectly written whiteboard. And a perfectly familiar whiteboard, if you’re Michele McNeil, a writer for Education Week, a “hybrid print-online news organization” that charges for some of its content. McNeil wrote a story Friday on Education Week’s “Politics K-12″ blog titled “The Significance of Idaho’s New Double-Testing Waiver.” It explored … exactly the same issues that surfaced in Politico’s whiteboard, and it is date-stamped 35 minutes before the whiteboard.

Have a look at the side-by-side comparison:

Education Week reported the news: “This week Idaho won a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to allow all of its schools to field test new common-core-aligned tests this spring.”

Politico Pro reported the news: “The Education Department has granted Idaho flexibility regarding field testing of new Common Core-aligned assessments this spring for all of its students in math and English language arts.”

Education Week reported the implications: “And, this approval is important because it could set a precedent for a decision coming soon from the department on California, which also wants to ditch its state tests entirely so it can give only field tests designed by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.”

Politico Pro reported the implications: “That might give California hope. The state asked for the same flexibility, but it has yet to hear from the department. Last year, California passed legislation that calls for an end to old standardized tests and data reporting while the new Smarter Balanced assessments are piloted. The move angered the Education Department and Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to pull federal funds from the state. But if Idaho gets a similar deal, California just might, too.”

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, managing editor of Education Week and edweek.org, didn’t care to directly address whether her organization’s pocket had been picked. “I can say we have a smart and skilled team of reporters and they dig for news, they do all their homework to make sure we can do really good analysis of K-12 policy,” says Manzo.

When asked if she’d seen anyone else do this particular story, she said no. Then where did Politico Pro come up with it? “I think you’re capable of drawing your own conclusions based on your research,” said Manzo.

Whatever the intellectual-property dimensions of the situation, Manzo noted that McNeil’s story is the product of reportorial enterprise. “This kind of deeper dive comes from trolling through a lot of really complex kinds of documents, knowing the subject matter, and being able to compare what’s going on across states,” says Manzo. “This kind of piece comes from a reporter knowing what they’re doing.”

On the general question of attribution, Manzo says that when “other outlets use our original reporting to support their own content, we do expect that they would credit us.” Considering that Politico Pro’s content often gets traded in a closed subscriber loop, however, it’s not always easy to police this principle. According to the Politico Pro site, the “vast majority” of Pro stories and updates are “available only to Pro subscribers.” The Idaho education whiteboard has been noted on Alexander Russo’s “This Week In Education” blog.

And here’s a wrinkle: According to Manzo, Education Week last year attempted to secure a subscription to Politico Pro Education. It hasn’t gone through. Politico Pro subscriptions cost in the thousands of dollars.

Asked whether Politico had failed to credit Education Week and whether it would allow the organization to subscribe, Politico spokeswoman Olivia Peterson responded, “Thanks, Erik [Wemple Blog]. Will let you know if we are interesting in discussing. Thanks, as always, for your interest.”

UPDATE 6:50 p.m.: A source tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Politico Pro has credited Education Week on previous occasions, including an e-mail update from Feb. 20, part of which reads as follows:

The Department of Education has decided not to grant Arkansas or Utah requested flexibility regarding the implementation of their teacher evaluation systems because both states asked for more than the department intended to give. The department said both state requests are to remain “pending.”

According to the letters sent to the states in December and first reported by Education Week, Arkansas wanted to delay the use of its student growth component until the 2015-16 school year, which the Education Department won’t allow. The state also wanted until the 2016-17 school year to tie student growth to teacher personnel decisions.

And Politico Pro editor Marty Kady e-mails:

The practice across POLITICO, and on the policy teams I supervise, is to always credit original reporting done by others. We have previously credited Education Week on items, and expect the same professional courtesy from them and others.

In this case, we learned our information from a public source–the Education Department’s website–and did not know of the Education Week item.

I always wish to be first with any item–and congrats to them for getting this out quickly–but please rest assured and share with your readers that we did not draw on Education Week for either the news or analysis in the item we gave POLITICO Pro subscribers.

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