Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When a political columnist does an education columnist's job for a day

This occasionally happens. A high-profile columnist decides in her/his wisdom to come out of their comfort range and write about something related to the education beat.
Witness the latest example-- Christina Blizzard's column from earlier this week about schools in Huron County (specifically Zurich). It got a fair amount of pickup when it was tossed onto the comment pages for the Sun chain this week.
The school column really has to be seen in the light of the wind turbine / gas column Blizzard wrote before this one-- perhaps the reason she travelled out to Zurich in the first place. While I'm sure the community loves the fact that a Toronto columnist actually paid attention to their concerns (be they in education or other affairs), Blizzard is hopelessly unable to do more than go skin deep. From the piece:
Right now, 80% of the kids walk to school.
In 2012, they’ll all be bused.
So not only will they get less exercise, they won’t be able to take part in after-school sports and other activities.
It’s a double whammy. They can’t stay late at school to play hockey or be in the school play.
And they won’t get home in time to take part in those activities in their home communities.
So much for healthy living.
It’s just one more step in a devastating trend that is killing rural Ontario, said Bayfield Coun. Geordie Palmer.
“It started 15 years ago with factory farms, which have virtually destroyed the family farm.
“We’re going to green energy, but now we’re building factory-style windmills.
“The bottom line is we are now developing factory schools — consolidating them all in one spot, so the children are spending more time on buses than they are on education,” he said
Well, anyone covering school closures in the past five years could read this script from memory as it's been heard over and over and over. Why, clicking the accommodation reviews label here would show the same pattern of responses writ large outside the GTA. Yet Blizzard didn't bother to speak with a school board official. Ditto with any of the trustees that may have explained the decision. Neither with the group of parents that proposed the North Maitland Centre of Excellence school model (which was somewhat followed, mostly not). Heck, she didn't even bother to check to see if any other schools in this province are 7-12 schools (um, there are plenty).
How could she know about all these things?
Maybe, just maybe, big-city media and chains should think carefully about who they send beyond the city lights to write about these things. Moira MacDonald files for the same newspaper and is consistently one of the smartest columnists writing about education in the GTA (yeah, I've got a bit of a crush going, so what? For comparative purposes, look at what she wrote this week about the sale of West Toronto Collegiate). I would bet donuts and coffee MacDonald would have written a very different column, instead of this drive-by effort from Blizzard.


Anonymous said...

I bet you didn't know that before she was the QP reporter at the SUN Chris was the education reporter.

She often turns back to education issues as education is more frequently run by QP these days. While space is a premium in her paper, hence the lack of depth, she actually does know what she is writing about.

In the big city, the school board beat is the training ground for newbie journalists.

Anonymous said...

Chris Blizzard is a hack. She sucked when she was the ed reporter, and she still sucks now.

Anonymous said...

Please allow me to stand up and defend the reporters and freelancers of small town papers in Huron County for covering the accommodation reviews here ever since their beginnings with this government.

That Blizzard saw fit to visit and toss in her 2 cents worth in a column that pales in comparison to the good local coverage Huron County media has given this issue.

It's of no surprise to those of us in small towns and rural communities that the guts have been ripped out of our communities by our school boards via the accommodation reviews.

It's also of no surprise that the McGuinty gov't has paid little attention to the issues faced by our municipalities here. Whether wind turbines, full-day Kindergarten, it just doesn't wash.

What I found interesting about Blizzard's column is that she doesn't differentiate that the decision to close the schools in Blyth and Brussels was a different accommodation review than the Hensall one.

I would also bet that Blizzard had been turned on to the Hensall issue by some high-profile folks like former Huron-Bruce MP Paul Steckle, and NDP Candidate Paul Klopp who have kids and grandkids attending the Zurich school. Get that ER - Liberals and NDP - annoyed at the closure under McGuinty's watch.

I don't expect much from Blizzard when she vacations in Huron County. Last time she came here, she toured the place with our Liberal MPP Carol Mitchell. The result was a column that painted a community being over-run by drunk and addicted teenage country hicks.

I can send you at least 2 dozen columns written by local writers like Steve, Cathy, Dave, Gerard, and/covered appropriately by CKNX, The Beach, and others.

Rural/small towns learn very early on that when it comes to help from the gov't they're on their own.

Similarly there is not one education organization in this province that isn't Toronto-centric, that has a true picture of what's going on outside the centre of the universe.

Anonymous said...

Does that mean no one outside of the GTA is interested?

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:05am "Does that mean no one outside of the GTA is interested?"

Interested in what? How, compared to small rural Ontario schools Toronto schools are doing or NOT closing?

Or, how education organizations care more about snagging GTA press and politicians than they do about what's going on outside the bubble?

Small town schools and boards grow sick and tired of the GTA fawning on all fronts. Same goes for educational organizations in the province.

Anything else?

Anonymous said...

I totally get what Anon. 11:10 is saying. One gets tired of having rural and small town schools being on the receiving end of media, politicians and organizations that claim some sort of expertise but who demonstrate very little understanding of how that expertise if falling on deaf ears or is so off the mark as to be a nice idea but impractical.

Anonymous said...

Blizzard isn't a reporter... she's a right-wing mouthpiece who just looks for ways to write stories that conform to her view of the world.

Education Reporter said...

It may have been perhaps unfair to portray Blizzard as the reporter who doesn't do ed-- particularly since I was unaware of her earlier reporting. I'm of a vintage where she's always been a QP columnist.

However, the point still stands. She doesn't write much about education, save a handful of columns a year when touchtone issues come up within the QP press gallery. When you're buried in the Toronto media circle and step beyond the city lights to see what's going on, it's difficult to understand the issues the same way as the poor hacks (like me) who breathe that air all the time.

Rural Ontario likes to complain about how this government has been so cruel to them. Yet I wonder at times whether the rush to consolidation, to a harder line on student-based economies of scale would have continued at its frenzied pace had there not been a change in government in 2003. Dombrowsky, despite having been shoved aside on the way to the finance minister, was the person in the Ag portfolio when the province stepped into the risk management program without the feds. Whatever your belief on alternative energy projects, the farmers who sign contracts are adding to their farm businesses-- which helps soften the peaks and valleys of commodity prices.

Regardless, it's drive-by reporting. The chain might say it sent the best person in to do the job, but there are some times automatic assumptions that the best person for writing on what happens outside metro are the people working inside metro and that's not always the case.


Anonymous said...

During the last and previous Ontario campaigns the opposition parties used the no. of school closures as part of their strategy to send Harris packing. I can remember People for Education and the Liberals carrying on with regular totals of "x" no. of schools closing and "x" no. of students affected on the Harris watch.

Would it be fair for the current oppositions to follow suit? Clearly more schools have closed in rural and small communities than in larger urban centres under Dalton than ever before.

Where are the tallies where is Doug Reycroft?

ER the truth is that Harris had in place a school closure policy and procedures too. Some times boards did the right thing and canvassed their communities, sought alternatives etc. etc. Others failed to do so and paid for it.

Given the continuing prediction of decline schools would have closed under any government.

I predict that not many schools will close during the election campaign. Wouldn't want voters too upset now would we.

hfmcm said...

I appreciated Blizzard's article. No one would ever accuse me of being right-wing, but Blizzard has a knack of cutting through the nonsense that too often passes for policy in this current climate. As for Blizzard trampling on the sensibilities of "education reporters" -- if you imagine that the DSBN Academy project is actually about education, you're kidding yourselves. Blizzard gets it: this is all about the politics of power, a game in which the unfortunates who get to attend this Academy are the pawns.

Anonymous said...

hfmcm - what are you talking about? There is nothing in Blizzard's column relating to an Academy.

I think you've posted to the wrong thread.

Education Reporter said...

My sensibilities haven't been trampled on. Blizzard (in a separate column to answer the point raised by the next comment) did cut through the chaff on the Academy.
However, on this issue, with this column, she didn't do as good of a job.


RetDir said...

I think it is sad when someone with Blizzard's experience and talents gets taken for a ride by local self-interests and doesn't take the time to paint the full picture of what happens. Surely her editors could reign this kind of article in, but since they sell papers it would appear that bald sensationalism trumps factual news in that particular organization.

Education Reporter said...

The "sell papers" line is a bit simplistic. I don't think the extra 100 papers they might have sold in Zurich that week (if you can even buy the Toronto Sun in Zurich) made the difference between running or not running this piece.

What I would likely suspect is that just like Blizzard didn't have a strong enough foundation in the local subject matter to do a better job on this column, her editors didn't either.