An Interview with Coby Loup: Fordham On Line?

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University

1) Coby, the Fordham Foundation has begun to experiment with some alternative routes to communication with the current Internet/Blog generation. What has been your latest endeavor?

About a month ago we started producing short videos, including a spoof of Ed in 08's "America's Future" video, and a running series of 3-5 minute interviews called Fordham Factor (all available here). On April 15 we launched a new blog, Flypaper, whose content is meant to reflect the back-and-forth of an editorial meeting for our weekly newsletter, the Education Gadfly.

2) Who came up with this idea for Flypaper?

Folks have been asking us for years why Fordham never started a blog, so it's been in the back of our minds for a while. I think we did it now because we decided that we finally have the capacity to jump into it full bore. As for the name, my colleague Liam and I have been in a fierce spat the last couple days over which of us came up with it.

3) I recently saw Mike Petrilli on You Tube. How did that come about?

Mike, as you can tell, was born to be on YouTube. Again, as our staff has grown over the last year, we've decided it's time to delve into new media. We've done the Education Gadfly Show Podcast for two years, of course, so we have no compunctions about embarrassing ourselves before hundreds of people. The goal with the videos is to embarrass ourselves before thousands of people.

4) I hate to use the term, but are "sound bites" the way to go with the current generation?

I suppose you could say that, although I'm not sure that the negative connotations that accompany that phrase are always warranted. People have always liked what's witty and pithy; it's just easier to disseminate things now, and in more easily digestible formats, like videos and blog posts. I don't know if it necessary signals some kind of cultural decay.

5) I recently read an excellent chapter in a book written by Mike Petrilli. It did take me a while to read it, but I thought it was well done, comprehensive and insightful. I guess my question is, in this current climate, when people often don't have the time to read a chapter, are we doing them a disservice summarizing an intricate complex analysis for them?  Or are we helping people to get to the heart of the matter?

Again, I think such fears are probably overblown. First of all, I'm not sure there's any evidence that reading blogs or watching short videos replaces the time that folks would otherwise spend reading dry policy tomes (with all due respect to Mike's chapter, of course).

Those interested in the nitty-gritty of ed policy will keep reading books from Harvard Education Press, and in the meantime maybe our blog/videos/podcast will attract some casual observers who otherwise wouldn't spend any time at all following education policy developments.

6) Coby, in terms of mass communication, when Fordham Foundation wants to communicate some concern as widely as possible, what factors do you consider?

A lot of our research is aimed at policymakers and civic leaders, so we still rely a lot on traditional media outlets. Our aim with the new media outreach is really to supplement those efforts. Take our recent report, Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools? Our first goal was to get papers like the Washington Post interested in the report, which we did. They reported on it and the editorial board took a column to endorse its findings. Also, Mike has appeared on NPR and Fox News to discuss its findings. We still consider these our main targets. But you'll also see a couple Fordham Factor videos on our blog that focus on the report (here and here), as well as several blog posts giving up-to-the-minute reactions to the pope's visit, links to and analysis of relevant stories from around the country, etc. The two strategies really complement one another well.

7) Please give us the web sites for these new innovative attempts to communicate better with concerned colleagues and peers.

You mean our websites? You can find the blog at edexcellence.net/flypaper. There you'll see links to the Education Gadfly Show Podcast; to Gadfly Studios, where you can find all our videos; and, of course, to the original weekly Education Gadfly and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute homepage. You can also watch all of our YouTube videos at youtube.com/user/educationgadfly.

8)  Are people just interested in "the bottom line" or do they really want a thoughtful analysis of say, policy issues?

It goes back to the "sound bite" question. There will always be a group of very serious policy people who revel in the details, but most people always have been and always will be attracted to what's short and sweet. Being a bunch of think tank geeks, we tend to fall into the first category, so there's always the challenge of coming up with ways to disseminate our findings in an understandable, easily-digestible manner, while at the same time ensuring we don't strip them of their substance. I think our new media approach is giving us a great avenue for doing this.

Published April 21, 2008

Monday

April 21st, 2008

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist EducationNews.org

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