Special report sponsorship

I just received my first issue of eSchool News and I have a strong concern.

It appears to me that the special report in the February 2000 issue has been underwritten by FamilyEducation Network, though I do not see where that is indicated clearly—other than the small tag line at the bottom of the page. I would like to know the financial relationship betweem FEN and the special report. Did FEN buy the entire spread? If so, might not the “special report” be fairly characterized as an advertisement? I am curious to know what you think your average reader interprets the term “special report” to mean.

As a media literacy educator and statewide advocate for educational technology, I am concerned that the valuable content of such sponsored reports can be compromised by nondisclosure of the economic/editorial connection.

In my opinion, the “report” achieves a reasonable editorial balance on the topic of commercialism, and references (apparently) non-commercial competitors of FEN.

I call your attention to the recent problem at the LA Times where their partnership with a major corporate advertiser caused much humble pie to be eaten by many respectable journalists—not because the partnership adversely impacted editorial content, but rather because it was kept from its readership.

This is an extremely important issue to me, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Bill Jawitz
Coordinator, Youth and
Technology Programs
Connecticut Voices for Children

Editor’s reply:

Thanks for your concern, Bill. You raise an important matter, and it was nice of you to take time to express it.

FEN did, indeed, sponsor our February special report. That is to say, they were the exclusive advertiser in that eight-page section. Their status as exclusive advertiser in the section also is disclosed and underscored with a footer on each page.

The editorial content was produced under the sole direction of the editorial staff. FEN had nothing to say about what appeared, and FEN read what the editors decided to include in the report at the same time as all our other readers did, when the issue was published.

To avoid the very problems you mentioned, our contract with special report sponsors specifically stipulates that control of the editorial content resides exclusively with the editors. This is mainly to avoid even the possibility of any confusion that might lie in the minds of potential sponsors. No confusion on this point exists, you may be sure, in the minds of any of our writers or editors.

As a matter of policy, we don’t publish so-called “advertorials”—i.e., content that might appear to be editorial but which actually is advertising. In our newspaper, advertisements are advertisements and editorial is editorial. Both are entirely appropriate and valuable in their place.

Now, regarding the LA Times: Based on my admittedly imperfect understanding of that situation, I think what the Times did was decidedly different than a sponsorship. As I understand it, the Times published an essentially favorable report on a sports arena—without disclosing that the newspaper actually had an ownership interest in the arena.

We have no ownership interest in any of the companies that advertise with us. What we do with our special reports, when they happen to be sponsored, is more akin to ADM sponsoring the “News Hour” on PBS than it is to the situation at the LA Times.

In sum, I think the way we handle our advertising and sponsorships is completely appropriate and above board. Consequently, I’m glad you asked about it, so I’d have this chance to explain our practice and, I hope, allay your worries.

Conference coverage

I was very surprised that your news alerts from FETC did not feature the use of iBooks by participants and the effective use of wireless communication. From educators I talked to, that was the top story of the conference.

Kathryn Bailey
Director of Technology
The Paideia School (Atlanta, Ga.)

Editor’s reply:

You’re right on about the iBooks generating a great deal of interest at FETC, Kathryn. But we covered their release in the “Product Spotlight” section of our Sept. 1999 issue, and we’ve done several reports on wireless technologies recently (including a special report on wireless connectivity in the Dec. 1999 issue). That’s why we chose to focus on some other trends and issues in our FETC coverage.

eRate ignorance

Last week when I submitted my opinion in your online eRate poll, I wondered how many respondents would have actual eRate experience. In our area, we have school districts, mine included, that have received significant funding from eRate resources.

We also have school board members, administrators, staff, and parents who have little idea that there is an eRate program or what is involved to make it work. Running a school district is very involved, and few people have the stamina and time to stay well informed about every issue.

I have explained the eRate to my business manager, school board, and superintendent several times. Not everyone gets to attend each briefing, and this topic shares a filled agenda.

Many people still see the eRate as a “grant” whereby they will receive a check to spend. The discount concept and putting money in the budget to cover our part of the purchase is a concept that not everyone has yet grasped.

Last year, we received $70,000 in discounts for internal wiring of one school. We also received $80,000 in discounts from our phone service. This year, we have applied for about $225,000 in discounts on our continued internal wiring in other schools. Budgeting the money to cover the portion that won’t be discounted was a hard sell. The prevailing comments seemed to say to me, don’t wire quite so much. Just do what the eRate will pay for. It was as if some of the decision makers expected a 100 percent discount.

eRate dollars have been very important to our school district. We hope to have our applications successfully funded again this year. Yet, in a school district like ours, which is not really all that large with about 5,300 students, we still have many hard-working board members, administrators, and teachers who haven’t realized how the eRate program has helped us.

Part of the job of the technology leaders in a school district must be to publicize all the success and assistance we get. I intend to announce our success one more time and to give a brief overview of what has occurred thanks to the eRate.

Alex May, Technology Supervisor
Millville (N.J.) Public Schools