An Interview with Alexander Russo: About Blogs

May 5, 2005 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
School of Education
Portales, New Mexico 88130

Alexander Russo is an education writer, editor, and consultant whose writing has appeared in Slate, The Washington Monthly, Teacher Magazine, City Limits, and Education Next, among other publications. He wrote and edited the 2004 book “School Reform in Chicago” (Harvard Education Publishing Group). He is the regular education contributor for WBEZ’s news magazine, “Eight Forty-Eight,” as well as a regular guest on Chicago Public Television. Before he began writing, he was a policy advisor to two U.S. Senators and to the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, as well as a 7th and 10th grade English teacher. He is currently a contributing editor at Catalyst magazine, as well as a senior editor for the Title I Report.

1) This will give me away as a low tech guy in a high tech world, but what exactly is a blog?

Blogs are nothing more than a special kind of website that is updated frequently, often with links to news articles or columns from the papers or elsewhere on the Internet.  The term comes from web (as in the Internet) and log (as in a ship’s log or a journal).  You can think of them as online journals, except that they’re public and the ones people read are usually about an issue — education, health care, the Yankees, etc.

2) Why should educators and parents be concerned about blogs?

There are three key things parents should know about blogs.  One is that their children, if they’re preteens or teens, may be reading or writing them.  More importantly, blogs can be a great way to learn about the unofficial side of things going on in a school or district.  Teachers and administrators have blogs, and if you can find them you can learn something about what’s going on in your area.  Last but not least, blogs can provide important information about an issue — gathering links to news pieces from around the country or from sources that aren’t always easy to find.

3) What exactly transpires at a blog site?

 Usually on a blog site there is some commentary or background provided by the author (aka blogger) who runs the site.  That is usually accompanied by one or more links to traditional news sources, government web pages, or other websites.  Sometimes there are comments from readers about the posting, pro or con, continuing the conversation starting by the original commentary.  That’s about it.

4) How can you trust the information on a blog to be reliable, and valid?

To my mind, the greatest value of blogs is that they collect and arrange information from official sources in one place rather than that they are themselves authoritative or trustworthy. What the bloggers have to say themselves is mostly just their opinion, and few besides me and a couple of others are really experts.  For example, you would trust a paralegal to gather information about certain kinds of cases that have come before a court in the past, but you wouldn’t trust the paralegal to go to court and try the case.  Others will disagree, but that’s how I see it.

5) Let’s face it- we have too much information coming in and not enough time to read it all. How can blogs help?

Sifting through information and highlight the most interesting, new, or essential articles is exactly what a good blog can do.  Blogs shouldn’t be one more site that someone has to visit.  They should be the site that you visit so you don’t have to visit 10 others.

6) DO you have a blog and what transpires on it ? Do you find it useful?

My blog , This Week In Education, s a weekly roundup of the week’s best education articles, organized by topic, with a little bit of commentary and analysis to spice things up.  Having worked in the Senate as a legislative aide, I know a lot about politics and federal education law like NCLB and IDEA, and that’s a big part of the site.  Other sections are about urban education, principals and teachers, and education coverage — whether the mainstream media has covered this week’s news events fairly and insightfully.  It’s fun, it’s read by a lot of policy people in DC and education writers.

7) Recently you have indicated the most commonly used education blogs. Why are these particular sites so well known and used?

As I said in my posting about education blogs, I like sites that provide lots of information about what is going on out there in the real world and in the papers.  I don’t need to hear a lot of peoples’ opinions, especially if they’re not particularly informed or if I’m not particularly interested in what it’s like teaching 8th grade math in Pawtucket.  But I do want to know what’s out there and what’s good — that’s what sites like EducationNews, the PEN NewsBlast, EduWonk, and others provide.

 8) What question about blogs have I neglected to ask?

         You have asked some pretty good questions.  This last one is the best.  But I’ve had my say.  You can review and read the stuff on my blog, too, if you want, and are interested and you may want to review the recent comments section on my blog.  I hope this information helps.  Thanks for asking and for your interest. Best,  Alexander Russo.


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