Flipboard buys its rival from CNN: Flipboard, the most prominent of the many social reading apps, bought one of its rivals, Zite, from CNN this week. CNNMoney’s Laurie Segall pegged the deal at a value “as high as $60 million over time,” taking future advertising revenue into account. The dollar amount was strangely vague because, as Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee reported, CNN didn’t actually get any cash in the deal, but instead got a small stake in Flipboard. The two companies also announced a content and ad-selling partnership.
There’s no mystery in this case as to whether Zite will survive the acquisition: Its co-founder, Mike Klaas, said Zite will shut down, with its technology folded into Flipboard. Klaas said both companies have been focused on helping people discover personalized content, though they diverge in how they do it: “Zite’s focus was on topics, while Flipboard was mostly about publications; Flipboard was a reader for social media but Zite tried hardest to find articles you couldn’t find on your Twitter feed.”
ReadWrite’s Dan Rowinski also said Flipboard will benefit greatly from the serendipity of Zite’s recommendation technology, and Zite CEO Mark Johnson — who won’t be joining Flipboard in the merger — agreed with him that adding Zite’s back-end technology to Flipboard would be best for both apps, even though it meant the death of his own app.
Zite’s biggest shortcoming seems to have been not its technology, but its relative lack of size. J.P. Mangalindan of CNN’s Fortune reported that Zite never got the kind of traffic bump it had expected when it was bought by CNN. The social reader field now looks like it’s dominated by Flipboard and Facebook’s new Paper app, though Flipboard’s Mike McCue told TechCrunch he’s not worried about Paper as it’s simply “a different way of letting you look at Facebook.” Rachel King of ZDNet agreed that Paper is too narrowly drawing from Facebook content to be considered a “Flipboard killer.”
RELATED ARTICLEBostonGlobe.com is moving to a metered paywallThe Globe and Guardian’s differing paywall paths: The Boston Globe announced that it’s turning the hard paywall at its BostonGlobe.com site into a metered model, a change that was reported to be in the works last month. BostonGlobe.com was created in 2011 when the Globe split into two sites, one free (Boston.com) and one paid (BostonGlobe.com). In a memo to staff, the Globe’s editor, Brian McGrory, deemed the hard-paywalled BostonGlobe.com a success, with nearly 60,000 digital-only subscribers. The switch to a metered model (which allows readers 10 free stories over 30 days), he said, is simply an attempt to grow its readership.
RELATED ARTICLEEmbrace the unbundling: The Boston Globe is betting it’ll be stronger split up than unifiedMcGrory said the two sites will now be completely separate, even competing; Boston.com will no longer publish anything produced by Globe staff, and Boston.com’s staff will move out of the Globe newsroom. The Lab’s Justin Ellis looked more closely at the split between the two sites and the rationale behind it, and new Globe owner John Henry explained the split and his other plans for the paper in emails to Boston magazine.
Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy said the change isn’t a major shift but a rather expected course correction, though he protested the two-site strategy, calling it confusing. Why, he asked, should paying BostonGlobe.com customers have to go to Boston.com for anything? In a followup post, Kennedy said the Globe seems to be going with a hub-and-spoke model with a variety of affiliated projects, as opposed to a strict two-site model.
The Guardian, meanwhile, continues to move in the opposite direction regarding paid content online. Fresh off the announcement that the paper’s digital revenues have jumped 25 percent in the past year and the £619 million sale of its share in AutoTrader, Guardian CEO Andrew Miller told a conference crowd that the chance at a paywalled site has long passed. Instead, he said The Guardian will be looking into membership models over the next few months.
Mike Darcey, head of the News Corp unit that includes hard-paywalled Times and Sunday Times of London, backhandedly called The Guardian “very brave” for betting on a free-site strategy. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum commended The Guardian for its advertising gains but said it’s still leaving money on the table without a metered paywall. “You can set a meter as high as you want, and even then you could simply ask for money, rather than require it,” he said.
The New York Times, which pioneered the metered model, continues to tweak it: It announced it’s working on NYT Now, a mobile-oriented briefing of Times stories that will cost $8 a month. NYT Now is the first of several other paid offerings the Times is planning to offer that run a little cheaper than the main Times digital subscription plan.
Getty Images’ free embedded photo plan: Getty Images, one of the world’s largest stock photo agencies, announced this week that it’s making 35 million of its photos free to embed for noncommercial purposes, as the British Journal of Photography reported. Getty has a surprisingly lenient measure of what makes up noncommercial use, including news sites that use photos for editorial purposes and blogs that serve Google Ads as noncommercial, provided the photos aren’t to promote a product or service. (All except the top photo in this story are Getty embeds.)
As the BBC noted, Getty is admitting defeat with this policy: It knows its pictures are being used illicitly all over the web, and it’s conceding to that free use while trying to retain some of its revenue by gathering data from the sites on which it’s embedded and (possibly, eventually) serving ads with the pictures. Gizmodo and Techdirt — the latter of which has been quite critical of Getty’s copyright enforcement efforts — both praised the move, while the BBC pointed out that many professional photographers are livid.
RELATED ARTICLEGetty Images blows the web’s mind by setting 35 million photos free (with conditions, of course)The Verge’s Russell Brandom compared the move to the music industry’s efforts to adapt to downloading while keeping control and worried about long-term link rot with embedded images if Getty’s terms change. The Lab’s Joshua Benton had the most in-depth look at Getty’s plan, outlining the shortcomings of its embedding format and characterizing its possible strategy as “(a) get some people to use an embed instead of stealing while (b) making the experience just clunky enough that paying customers won’t want to use it.”
Russia’s media offensive: Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the growing international tensions surrounding Ukraine have dominated the news this week, and as The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone and Luke Johnson reported, Russia has been waging a media offensive alongside its military moves. Crimea’s only independent TV channel shut down after threats to its journalists, and masked gunmen seized the offices of the Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism. Both actions drew condemnation from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In Russia, state-run media has been enlisted in the propaganda effort, as Calderone and Johnson, The Daily Beast’s Oleg Shynkarenko, and BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray all documented the spin and misinformation being aired there. One anchor on the Russian government-funded TV network RT America, Liz Wahl (an American), drew attention by resigning on air in protest. RT America condemned her resignation as “nothing more than a self-promotional stunt” while praising another RT host who criticized the Russian government on her talk show; its editor-in-chief followed up with a post expressing pride in her RT’s journalists for withstanding the criticism they go through in the U.S.
Wahl, for her part, criticized RT America in an interview with The Daily Beast for marketing the network to appeal to a young Westerners cynical about political authority while downplaying the fact that it’s run by an extremely authoritarian organization in the Kremlin. The New York Times talked to a former RT staffer who backed up her claim of covert editorial influence in favor of the Russian government. The New York Times talked to experts who said this sort of misleading selectivity is the norm, not just during wartime, but also noted that the U.S. media takes a pretty pro-American perspective as well, something RT representatives and experts also told Mashable.
Reading roundup: Lots more news going on this week in the media world beyond the big headlines:
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of Newsweek’s pricey relaunch— Time unveiled a redesign that includes new, more dynamic and interactive ad units and, as Poynter’s Sam Kirkland pointed out, a more text-heavy, app-like feel. Tech entrepreneur Chris Saad tweaked sites like Time’s for web design that mimics iPad design. Meanwhile, Time’s (former?) rival, Newsweek, relaunched its print edition this week with an attention-getting cover story revealing the identity of Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto that led to a denial, outrage, a car chase, and an ethical debate. The New York Times outlined Newsweek’s plans — it’s printing 70,000 copies, available for a whopping $7.99 each — and the Lab’s Ken Doctor went deeper into its print-web subscription strategy.
— Federal attorneys in Texas dismissed 11 charges against Barrett Brown, who had been accused of trafficking in stolen data for posting a link to the data online. The case has drawn attention from free speech advocates, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the decision to drop the charges. Earlier in the week, Brown’s attorneys had filed a motion to dismiss his indictment; you can read Techdirt’s commentary on that document here.
— As First Look Media and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept build on their non-hierarchical, collaborative editorial model, PandoDaily lobbed a conflict-of-interest accusation revolving around funding its owner, Pierre Omidyar, has given to pro-democracy groups in Ukraine. Greenwald responded with a defense of his and The Intercept’s journalistic independence, and PandoDaily issued another reply. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarized the conflict with some rebukes for both sides, and CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis looked at the episode as a case study in the new ethics of philanthropy-based journalism.
— The trial of three Al Jazeera journalists who have been detained in Egypt for several months began this week, with the defendants claiming they’ve been tortured and the prosecutors presenting, according to The Guardian, farcical evidence from the journalists’ hotel rooms. The trial has been postponed until March 24.
RELATED ARTICLEOn Adele Dazeem, Slate, and editorial ambivalence: “Our readers go low with us, and they go high with us”— Just like The New York Times in December, Slate hit a traffic high this week with a non-article — a name generator inspired by John Travolta’s Oscar-night flub. The Lab’s Joshua Benton delved into the ambivalence around non-news content drawing huge traffic at a news site, while the Times explored it as an instance of the gamification of news.
— Three thoughtful pieces to chew on: Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review’s “new consensus on the future of the news” manifesto, UNC professor John L. Robinson reflected briefly on the pros and cons of his students’ social media-heavy news diets, and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Anna Hiatt went deep (naturally) into the future of online longform journalism.
If you’re not a regular listener to the “Howard Stern Show” on SiriusXM radio, you might not recognize the name Jon Leiberman. But, you should. As arguably one of the hardest working reporters in the city, Lieberman has now added the title of author to his already too-full resume.
Leiberman has co-authored, along with former criminal prosecutor and attorney Margaret McLean, “Whitey on Trial,” an up-to-the-minute account of the trial of Whitey Bulger, one of America’s most notorious mob bosses, who terrorized the city of Boston for decades while the FBI and the government stood idly by. continued…
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
The advertisement ran just less than a month before the race for school board in Douglas County, Colo.
“Liberals are fighting school choice in Douglas County,” the announcer intoned. “But four conservatives — Doug Benevento, Meghann Silverthorn, Jim Geddes and Judi Reynolds — have pledged to make sure Douglas County remains a national leader in school choice.”
The ad urged viewers to thank the four — two incumbents and two candidates who had never held office — for “standing up to the unions fighting for common-sense school reform.”
The ads were effective. Despite overwhelming opposition by the teachers union, all four candidates won.
The ad was part of a $350,000 outside spending campaign, running August through mid-November, by the Colorado chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to elect the conservative slate.
AFP paid for mailers, canvassing and cable television ads, according to AFP state director Dustin Zvonek.
But no public record of how the nonprofit organization spent its money exists with the Colorado Secretary of State, and Comcast doesn’t have a record of Americans for Prosperity’s advertising purchase in its political files.
Why? Because according to AFP, the ad wasn’t political.
“Americans for Prosperity is an issue client that we’re not required to keep anything in the file for” issue ads, said Ariana Dobson, who sells political ads for Comcast in the Denver-area.
According to Zvonek, the organization didn’t have to file records of its spending with the Colorado Secretary of State the way political action committees and other election-focused groups did because the campaign wasn’t focused on the November election, but rather on educating the public about reforms the existing school board already implemented.
“There was an effort primarily from the teachers union to kind of distort the facts,” Zvonek said.
The difference between an issue ad and a political ad may seem indecipherable to the average viewer, but when it comes to what a nonprofit can and can’t do with its money, state and federal laws make a critical distinction.
Colorado requires groups to report electioneering to the Secretary of State. State law defines electioneering as any message that “unambiguously” refers to a candidate and is broadcast 60 days or fewer before a general election.
The ad described above began running the week of Oct. 8, according to AFP’s website. Election Day was Nov. 5.
Colorado Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge declined to say whether the ads run by Americans for Prosperity would be considered electioneering without someone filing a complaint against the group.
But Joseph Birkenstock, former chief counsel of the Democratic National Committee, said the ad appeared to fit squarely within the state’s electioneering qualifications, which, he noted, are broader than the federal electioneering rules.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization also prohibits the organization from engaging in partisan political activity. IRS rules allow 501(c)(3) nonprofits to participate in nonpartisan education efforts, like a voting guide or voter registration drive, but not activities that clearly favor one candidate over another.
The IRS takes a fairly strict view of what sort of activity is considered partisan where 501(c)(3)’s are concerned, according to Marcus Owens, a former IRS director of exempt organizations.
“It includes arguably anything that indicates a support or opposition to a candidate for elected office,” Owens said. “You don’t have to have the magic words of ‘vote for,’ or ‘vote against.’ You just have to express a preference for them.”
The IRS also takes into consideration factors like timing — whether the ad ran exclusively in the run-up to an election — and if the ads are consistent with others the organization runs year-round.
Based on these factors, Americans for Prosperity’s Douglas County ads would be considered partisan and would violate the group’s tax-exempt status, Owens said.
“It’s advertising that appears only in the run-up to the election, it names individuals who are candidates and clearly will be identified as candidates by other media, and it expresses a preference for them. That’s campaign intervention.”
Three weeks before Tennessee’s August 2012 primary election, state Rep. John DeBerry Jr.’s Memphis-area district was flooded with $52,000 worth of get-out-the-vote efforts supporting the then-nine-term incumbent. Six days later, another $52,000 in materials appeared.
By Election Day, the Tennessee affiliate of StudentsFirst, the education-focused organization behind the influx of support, had spent more than $109,000 backing DeBerry, a rare Democrat who supports voucher programs and charter schools. The state branch of the American Federation for Children, another education group, spent another $33,000.
DeBerry faced another Democrat, state Rep. Jeanne Richardson, whose district was eliminated through redistricting.
“I couldn’t counter it,” Richardson said of the funds StudentsFirst introduced late in the race. “I had to raise money by calling people. There wasn’t enough time left.”
StudentsFirst — created by former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee — is leading a new wave of “education reform” organizations, funded largely by wealthy donors, that are challenging teachers’ unions and supporting mostly conservative candidates up and down the ticket in dozens of states.
These groups promote charter schools, voucher programs and weakening of employment safeguards like teacher tenure, all ideas bitterly opposed by unions.
StudentsFirst flooded at least $3 million in outside spending into state elections in 2012, putting the group roughly on par with the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, across 38 states examined by the Center for Public Integrity and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The Sacramento, Calif.-based group is far from the only education reform organization that has gained prominence in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for corporations to fund political campaigns.
Among the biggest spenders: the American Federation for Children, 50CAN, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform . The organizations flooded states across the country with independent advertising and canvassing efforts in the run-up to the 2012 primary and general election.
They have been funded by a slew of billionaire donors, like philanthropist Eli Broad, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge fund manager Dan Loeb and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. However, the full list of funders opening their checkbooks for the education reformers remains a mystery since StudentsFirst and many of the other groups are so-called social welfare nonprofit organizations, which fall under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code.
Such groups are not required to reveal their donors.
Since 2012, the funding onslaught by these groups and their backers has shown no signs of slowing.
Spending has reached unheard of heights, even at the school board level.
The race for Los Angeles school board in May 2013 attracted nearly $4 million in spending on reform-minded candidates. Major supporters of the pro-reform committee include Bloomberg, StudentsFirst and Broad, a Los Angeles resident. The organization was countered by roughly $2 million from labor groups.
The American Federation for Children spent $110,000 in outside spending supporting three candidates for the Wisconsin State Assembly in the run-up to an election on Nov. 19, 2013.
Great Seattle Schools, an education reform-focused political action committee, spent just shy of $62,000 in outside spending in the months leading up to the city’s November 2013 school board election.
Democrats for Education Reform was among the committee’s backers, as were local wealthy figures like Chris Larson, a former Microsoft executive who owns a minor stake in the Seattle Mariners , and venture capitalist Nicholas Hanauer.
At the helm of this movement, StudentsFirst has dominated campaigns for state legislators and ballot initiatives that often seem outside the group’s education-focused mission statement. As StudentsFirst faces off with labor groups and labor-backed candidates, the group’s considerable financial heft may be shaping more than education policy.
Battling the unions
Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington’s public school system, established StudentsFirst not long after resigning her post in 2010. The new organization’s goal, she said, would be to provide some much-needed opposition to the teachers unions’ political power.
“The problem to date has been that you’ve had these incredibly powerful teachers unions that have lots of resources, and they use those resources to have influence on the political process,” Rhee said last year during an interview at the Commonwealth Club of California.
Rhee said StudentsFirst is the first education-oriented national interest group to seriously challenge the unions.
Since leaving Washington, Rhee has backed legislation curbing collective bargaining rights in several states. In the 18 states where the group is active, StudentsFirst has fought to eliminate “last in, first out” provisions in teachers’ contracts and to increase the role that quantitative evaluations play in teachers’ job security.
Accordingly, StudentsFirst tends to oppose candidates who align with unions.
Among these union-supported candidates in 2012 was Michigan state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an incumbent who ran against fellow incumbent Rep. Maureen Stapleton in the Democratic primary as a result of statewide redistricting.
Though Stapleton was a former teacher in the Detroit Public Schools, Tlaib received the endorsements of the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Federation of Teachers. Stapleton, on the other hand, backed charter schools and linking teacher salaries to performance, both key components of StudentsFirst’s mission.
Between July 20 and the Aug. 7 primary, StudentsFirst poured $195,000 in outside spending supporting Stapleton. Meanwhile, the Michigan Federation of Teachers, the Michigan Education Association and several other labor groups contributed directly to Tlaib’s campaign.
“You almost never see a state house race in the city of Detroit go over $30,000, so when StudentsFirst put $190,000 into that, that was an extraordinary amount of money for a Democratic primary,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
A couple months earlier, voters in Whittier, Calif., saw a similar phenomenon. The teachers unions supported Democrat Rudy Bermudez to represent the overwhelmingly Democratic district in the state assembly. But StudentsFirst backed a different Democrat, Ian Calderon.
A then-26-year-old surfing champion who had never held public office, Calderon’s dad is former state Sen. Charles Calderon and his uncle is state Sen. Ron Calderon.
According to Al Jazeera America, Rhee’s representatives met in February 2012 with former Assemblyman-turned-lobbyist Thomas Calderon, brother of Ron and Charles, to gain support for a bill that would eliminate the last-in-first-out clause of California teachers’ contracts. The next day, Ron introduced the bill.
Rhee’s group then spent more than $378,000 backing Calderon in the 11 days before the primary election on June 5, most of which paid for broadcast advertising, campaign finance records show.
Calderon defeated Bermudez by 337 votes in the primary before handily defeating Republican Noel Jaimes in the general election.
A new player in the game
Historically teachers unions have been the major voices in education politics with little education-specific opposition.
“In the old days, it was all the service-provider organizations — so all the unions — or the consumers,” said Kenneth Wong , an expert in education policy and education reform at Brown University. “We are seeing the broadening in terms of the type of actors who get involved in campaign issues in education.”
Even parents, who in the past often took a backseat to the unions when it comes to politics, are becoming more engaged in campaigns surrounding education issues, he said. The result is a highly competitive, highly expensive environment in which the still-powerful teachers unions face coalitions of traditional conservative, anti-union players aligned with education reform activists.
Politics aren’t new to education. For example, the American Federation for Children has been around, though under a different name, and has been fighting the teachers’ unions for more than 15 years.
What’s new is the unprecedented level of education-focused political spending at state and local levels.
“They’re the recipients of money from Wall Street and Silicon Valley and some of the wealthiest people in America,” American Federation of Teachers spokesman Michael Powell said of StudentsFirst. “And they’ve raised it at a fairly high clip, and it makes them more competitive in these races around the country, there’s no doubt about it.”
Karen White, national political director for the National Education Association, traced the new dynamic to the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that invited corporate spending into the political process.
White said, she sees no distinction between Rhee’s StudentsFirst and the other corporate-backed special interest groups the union has begun to face in recent years.
“We’re going to get outspent,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can to fight back and be strategic with our spending, but we are never going to be able to compete with the folks who are trying to corporatize education … It’s clearly a national battle that they’ve taken on all across the country.”
Despite White’s concerns, the NEA’s outside spending in 2012 state races was at least $6.4 million, more than double the amount spent by StudentsFirst in the states examined by the Center for Public Integrity.
Any comparison between education reform groups and the NEA is “really a David and Goliath situation,” said Matt Frendewey, spokesman for the American Federation for Children.
“They are one of the largest unions in the country. Period,” he said. “They carry a tremendous amount of clout, especially in relation to how many members they have, and they have a tremendous influence.”
‘Education reform’ or just ‘reform’?
The unions demonstrated their strength in numerous races across the country.
Brian Johnson, who lost the 2012 primary race for a seat in the California Assembly, was the beneficiary of outside spending by StudentsFirst and other education reform advocates.
Before running for office, Johnson was the executive director of Los Angeles’ Larchmont Schools, a network of charter schools, and before that he was the executive director of Teach for America in Los Angeles. He now works for the Teach for America-affiliated Leadership for Educational Equity.
So it’s unsurprising that Johnson benefited from $1.5 million in outside spending by education reform advocates, including $419,000 from StudentsFirst. Most of Johnson’s support came from political action committees whose major donors included Broad, Hastings and Walmart founder Sam Walton’s granddaughter Carrie Walton Penner. Bloomberg, Hastings and the California Charter Schools Association — which received 52 percent of its funds from Hastings — also gave directly to Johnson’s campaign.
Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association, the California branch of the National Education Association, spent nearly $467,000 opposing Johnson, and the campaign of Adrin Nazarian, Johnson’s top opponent, was funded largely by labor groups.
In other races, the education connection was less apparent.
In Michigan, StudentsFirst spent nearly $187,000 in independent expenditures to back then-state Rep. Deb Shaughnessy in what was ultimately a losing bid for re-election.
StudentsFirst was just one of many groups supporting Shaughnessy’s bid for re-election. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Republican Party, the National Rifle Association, Business Leaders for Michigan and Right to Life Michigan all funded outside spending campaigns either supporting Shaughnessy or opposing her labor-backed opponent, Theresa Abed. More than half of the contributions to Shaughnessy’s campaign came from the House Republican Campaign Committee.
And neither Shaughnessy’s background, nor the issues at the forefront of her campaign emphasized education.
Lawmakers like Shaughnessy have become targets of education spending thanks to an ongoing national debate surrounding the new federally endorsed Common Core curriculum in public schools and the role charter schools should play in public education, Powell said. State legislators will have leading roles in deciding these issues.
Federal government gridlock in Washington also means political action committees and political nonprofits are increasingly turning to state lawmakers as the country’s primary policy makers.
“Nothing’s really happening in Washington,” Powell said, “so anything that’s happening is happening in the states.”
The influence web
StudentsFirst is made up of a coalition of nonprofit organizations and affiliated political action committees in a handful of states, a structure that’s common among political groups.
There’s StudentsFirst, the main “social welfare” nonprofit or 501(c)(4), and the Great New England Public Schools Alliance, another 501(c)(4) nonprofit that operates mostly in Connecticut. There’s also the StudentsFirst Institute, which is not allowed to participate in elections since it falls under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. Together these groups spend millions on lobbying, direct campaign contributions and outside spending.
Since 2011, the StudentsFirst Institute received $9 million in grants from the Walton Family Foundation, $7 million from billionaire philanthropists Laura and John Arnold, and $1 million from billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen and his wife Alexandra.
The StudentsFirst Institute reported spending just shy of $1 million on lobbying between Aug. 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012, the most recent fiscal year whose tax reports are available. The group also gave $1 million in that period to the affiliated Great New England Public Schools Alliance, or GNEPSA.
GNEPSA, in turn, made just shy of $158,000 in independent expenditures in Connecticut legislative races in 2012 and received contributions from Bloomberg and venture capitalist Nick Beim, campaign finance records show.
StudentsFirst, the 501(c)(4), spent another $346,000 on lobbying during the 2012 fiscal year. State records suggest the group far exceeded this number in the following fiscal year, between Aug. 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013, though the group’s tax filing isn’t yet available for that time period.
Because StudentsFirst is not required to disclose its donors, it’s impossible to know where most of the group’s funds come from, a point that detractors use as a reason to question the group’s motives.
Those donors whose names appear on the occasional lobbying disclosure report or tax filing include high-profile figures in political, financial and technological industries.
For example, StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo indicated a 2012 Huffington Post story that named billionaire New Jersey hedge fund manager David Tepper, a major Mitt Romney supporter, among StudentsFirst’s funders. The article also named the Broad and Arnold families.
Castillo declined to further detail the group’s donors, citing organization policy.
Many other education reform groups are more open about who’s providing the means to their methods. As a result, they offer a small window into the rolls of donors injecting cash into the education reform movement as a whole.
An example of this is the Coalition for School Reform, which spent nearly $4 million on school board races in Los Angeles last year. The group received $1.4 million from Bloomberg, $500,000 from Broad and $250,000 from former Univision owner Jerry Perenchio, according to city campaign finance records.
Other donors included StudentsFirst, Hastings, the Arnold family, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, former New York School Chancellor Joel Klein and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The high-profile donors help give prominence to the groups and their causes, according to Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
But above all, these donors have money to spare — a lot of money to spare.
“It’s clear that these groups are funded by people who seem to have an endless supply of corporate money,” said Tenoch Flores, spokesman for the California Democratic Party.
Why the groups and their donors have chosen to support charter schools and voucher programs is sometimes less clear.
The American Federation for Children chooses which races to back based on where the group feels it can help increase educational options available to parents, according to Frendewey.
StudentsFirst’s Castillo echoed these sentiments.
“Our organization supports candidates that will be important partners in our ongoing push to ensure that every student attends a great school and is taught by a great teacher, and that's the reason we're pleased to support local and state reform-minded candidates,” he said in a written statement.
Rhee’s group and many other education reform organizations believe that privatizing education will prove beneficial for the country’s students, explained Michael Apple, who specializes in education policy at the University of Wisconsin. The same is true of the groups’ donors.
“If you look at Broad, Bloomberg, they’re in favor of strong mayoral control of education,” he said. “Some of it is also this belief that the corporate sector is the last remaining set of institutions that form the engine of our society.”
But changing the way public education functions also opens windows for private corporations and individuals to make a profit, which is likely a factor in at least some donors’ decisions to open their wallets, he said. He compared education to healthcare, “meaning the sources of profit are immense.”
The education reform agenda creates opportunities for companies that operate online learning programs and computerized testing, said White, of the NEA. The agenda also places a heavier emphasis on standardized testing, offering potential financial benefits to companies that offer those services.
In the past, K-12 education has been a “sluggish,” highly regulated market that investors were wary of jumping into, said Patricia Burch , an education professor at the University of Southern California. Not so anymore.
The technology schools use to administer tests and supplement coursework has emerged as a multibillion-dollar industry, according to Burch’s research, slated to be published in May in her new book, “Equal Scrutiny: Privatization and Accountability in Digital Education.”
In 2002, the education sector spent an estimated $146 million on technology. By 2011, that number was estimated at $429 million, according to Burch.
Burch’s book points to recent transactions and mergers as signs of the potential windfalls this market can offer.
In 2011, textbook giant Pearson purchased SchoolNet, a tool that helps districts track students’ achievement on standardized tests, for $230 million. Providence Equity Partners bought online educational platform Blackboard Inc. for $1.6 billion. For the low price of $13 million, K12 Inc. acquired Kaplan Virtual Education, which offers computer-based learning for public and private schools in nine states.
In 2012, Apple also partnered with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to offer digital textbooks for the iPad.
“It’s in the early stages. We know that there’s potentially tons of revenue to be generated,” Burch said.
Campaign costs spiral
Though few elections occurred in 2013 around the country, the education reform movement continued to inject an historic volume of funds into local and state races.
The most expensive was the race for school board in Los Angeles that attracted more than $6 million in outside spending.
In the month leading up to the May mayoral and city council election in Jersey City, N.J., the Better Education for New Jersey Kids, Inc., PAC dumped more than $342,000 into advertising and mailers. The PAC is associated with the nonprofit Better Education for Kids, which is not required to disclose its donors but lists Tepper among its trustees.
A special legislative election in Wisconsin and a school board race in Seattle proved ripe battlegrounds for political spending arms races between education reformers and their opponents.
In Denver County, Colo., a committee whose largest donors were Bloomberg and the political arm of education reform nonprofit Education Reform Now spent $103,000 on a school board race.
In nearby Douglas County, Colo., the labor-backed Committee for Better Schools Now spent $935,000 on a school board race. That spending was countered by the Colorado chapter of Charles and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which claims to have spent $350,000 on campaign efforts . No public records exist of the group’s spending.
Each of these races suggests that education reform spending is going to continue on an upward trajectory, at least for the near future.
“Historically we haven’t seen that kind of spending on school board races here [in Los Angeles], but it’s likely to become a lot more commonplace in the future,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who is running for California secretary of state. “My guess is in five years, we’ll be looking back at the relatively restrained fundraising levels of 2013 with some nostalgia.”
Reporters Without Borders condemns the increasingly oppressive climate of censorship in Crimea, where news media have been closed, media premises are being surrounded and journalists have been harassed and threatened.
“The media are being subjected to completely arbitrary actions and decisions,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “At a time when the entire world is following events in Crimea, those who control the region have duty to allow local and foreign journalists to do their job. The obstruction and censorship taking place under their authority is unacceptable.”
The signals of the Ukrainian TV stations 1+1 and 5 Kanal were cut suddenly yesterday in Crimea. At the same time, the Russia TV station Rossiya 24 began being broadcast instead of the local station Chernomorka, whose signal has been cut since 3 March. The Kyiv Post said this was the work of armed men who took over the radio and TV transmitting centre in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, in the morning.
Several dozen men in armed dress but without firearms blocked the entrance to the local state-owned TV station GTRK Krym in Simferopol yesterday. The head of the TV station, Stepan Gulevaty, said that, without giving any explanation, they were preventing anyone from leaving and allowing only the station's employees to enter.
There has been no let-up in cases of journalists being attacked or threatened in Crimea. On 5 March, Russian soldiers with no insignia outside the Belbek military base aimed their guns at Olga Ivshina of the BBC's Russian service and other journalists.
They searched the journalists and accused them of being British spies before releasing them. An officer told Ivshina that the western media were biased and that she should avoid provocations. He then told her not to come back.
Reporters with 1+1 and Al-Jazeera were briefly detained on 4 March when they tried to leave a military base at Yevpatoria that was also surrounded. It was only after showing their videos and their press IDs that they were allowed to leave. Individuals continued to escort them for a long time to ensure that they did not film.
Two reporters with the German newspaper Bild and the Ukrainian journalist Volodymyr Ilchenko were harassed and threatened yesterday in Simferopol by a group of youths who shouted at them, “Occupiers, get out of Crimea!” Their assailants tried to grab one of their laptops and then pursued them.
Argumenty Tizhnia - Krym reporter Stanislav Yurchenko was threatened on 5 March in Simferopol by members of a “self-defence militia” while trying to cover the use of force to disperse a demonstration by “women against the war.” His assailants twisted his arm, tried to break his camera and threatened him with serious reprisals if he kept any images of the event.
Yevgeny Fedorov, a parliamentary representative of the ruling United Russia party, announced yesterday in Moscow that he intended to present a bill that would permit the arrest of media executives or editors who disseminate “mendacious anti-Russian information” or “provide news coverage in support of anti-Russian extremists or separatists.” The proposed law would also affect media coverage of events taking place outside Russia, he said.
In Kiev, the cable TV and Internet service provider Lanet stopped carrying the signals of three Russian TV stations – Pervy Kanal, RTR-Planeta and NTV Mir – on 4 March on the grounds that they were “broadcasting aggressive propaganda, calling for war and spreading hate.”
The day before this move, Nikolai Tomenko, the president of the parliamentary commission on freedom of expression and information, had asked the intelligence services to determine whether these TV stations were violating Ukrainian law.
В Крыму свобода информации в критическом положении
«Репортеры без границ» осуждают насаждение в Автономной Республике Крым все более тяжелой цензуры. «Закрытые СМИ, захваченные офисы, нападения на журналистов… Участники информационного рынка подвергаются тотальному произволу, – сожалеет Кристоф Делуар, генеральный секретарь организации. – Пока происходящие в Крыму события вызывают интерес по всему миру, контролирующие регион силы обязаны позволять местным и иностранным журналистам выполнять их работу. Умножение числа препятствий и запретов, исходящее от действующих властей полуострова, непозволительно».
Шестого марта 2014-го года в Крыму внезапно отключили вещание украинских каналов «1+1» и «5-го канала». В то же время российский канал «Россия-24» начал вещать в эфире вместо местного канала «Черноморка», отключенного с третьего марта. Как пишет «Kyiv Post», это сделали вооруженные люди, которые утром того дня блокировали Крымский радиотелепередающий центр в столице региона Симферополь.
В тот же день вход в здание местной государственной телерадиокомпании «Крым» в Симферополе окружили несколько десятков человек в камуфляжной форме без оружия. Генеральный директор компании Степан Гулеватый рассказал, что эти люди никого не выпускают и без всяких объяснений впускают только работников ГТРК «Крым».
Не уменьшается число журналистов, которые стали жертвами насилия или запугивания на этом полуострове. Пятого марта около авиабазы «Бельбек» корреспондент русской редакции «Би-Би-Си» Ольга Ившина и ее съемочная группа попали в засаду российских солдат без знаков различия. Те обыскали журналистов, обвинили их в том, что они британские шпионы, и отпустили. Один офицер объяснил Ольге Ившиной, что она должна избегать провокаций и что западные журналисты необъективны. После этого он приказал корреспонденту никогда не возвращаться. Четвертого марта репортеры каналов «1+1» и «Al Jazeera » тоже были задержаны, когда пытались покинуть оцепленную военную базу Евпатории. Их отпустили только после того, как те показали снятое видео и удостоверения личности. После этого их долго сопровождали, чтобы убедиться, что они больше не снимают.
Шестого марта в Симферополе на двух репортеров немецкой газеты «Bild» и сопровождавшего их украинского журналиста Владимира Ильченко атаковала группа молодых людей, которые кричали «Оккупанты, вон из Крыма!». Нападавшие попробовали схватить один из компьютеров, а потом преследовали убегающих журналистов. Днем раньше в том же городе представители «крымской самообороны» угрожали корреспонденту издания «Аргументы недели – Крым» Станиславу Юрченко, когда тот освещал подавление акции «Женщины Крыма против войны». Нападавшие выкручивали ему руки, пытались разбить фотоаппарат и угрожали страшной расправой, если тот сохранит хоть одну фотографию этого события.
Шестого марта в Москве член правящей партии «Единая Россия» депутат Госдумы Евгений Федоров заявил о своем намерении предложить новый закон. По нему будут сажать руководителей СМИ, которые публикуют «лживую антироссийскую информацию» или «обеспечивают информационную поддержку экстремистским и сепаратистским силам антироссийской направленности». Подобные меры затронут также освещение событий, происходящих за границей России.
Киевский провайдер интернета и кабельного телевидения «Ланет» четвертого марта прекратил транслировать три российских телеканала. В поддержку этого решения «Ланет» утверждает, что «Первый канал», «РТР-Планета» и «НТВ Мир» «ведут агрессивную пропаганду», «призывают к войне» и «распространяют ненависть». Накануне глава комитета Верховной Рады по вопросам свободы слова и информации Николай Томенко попросил службу безопасности проверить, не нарушают ли эти каналы украинское законодательство.
(Photo: Genya Savilov / AFP)