The New York Times Magazine

I’m sorry.

Two simple words, not so simply said.*

Hot jeeps, informal settlements and grave personal risks. Churnalism called out at the New York Times and their recent coverage of Bridge International Academies, the Uber of education.

*plagiarised from the New York Times

TL;DR? go here

Back in April 2016 I started investigating and writing about Bridge International Academies, an American edubusiness active on the African continent who, supported by Pearson, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Omidyar Network, World Bank, the British Government and others, seek to profit from poverty.

Bridge International Academies is essentially an EdTech company with an app that disintermediates the educational relationship between content and children to create standardised “teacher-proof” schools. By this it seeks to disrupt, not the dinosaur text book industry and their reinforcing measurement systems (e.g. Pearson) but, the act of teaching and of school itself.

So aggressive is the Bridge attempt at disruption they consider it an essential part of their business model to own the schools and dispense with qualified teachers. They see themselves as the Uber of education and the saviour of poor children in Africa. Imagine a healthcare system where one company owns the hospitals, physicians and drugs and you have Bridge but for education. They are the darlings of publications like The Economist and other neoliberal propaganda. Let the markets fix the problems they cause and let’s get paid. In perpetuity.

My research and investigative work took on a life of its own as I discovered how deep the rabbit hole went and how many organisations and people had been fooled, and indeed lied to, in a blizzard of promotional material, hubris, misleading evidence and litigation.

At the pinnacle of my work having interviewed the education secretary of Liberia, investors, “philanthropy” organisations, academics and conducted freedom of information enquiries, I began receiving leaked documents from a whistleblower within the inner sanctum at Bridge HQ. These documents were not only shocking in their audacity but began to build a picture of an American corporation with plenty to hide. My keystone articles featuring my research that included some of these leaked documents appeared on Medium in June 2016.

Concerned about the legal implications of handling leaked documents and the litigious nature of Bridge I approached a number of national and international newspapers in advance of publication including the New York Times and The Guardian. I didn’t receive a reply from the NYT but received the following from a commissioning editor at The Guardian:

Hi, Graham
Thanks for this. Wow, it’s quite a big story, isn’t it. I just don’t have space or resources to commission something like this. It would take a lot of words, a lot of space, and a lot of lawyering, and for it to be featurey enough there would need to be some colour — and I can’t afford a trip to Liberia! So I shall have to pass. I hope you can place it somewhere though.

Having spent months on this independent, self-financed research and gaining the confidence of many people now in precarious positions I decided to lawyer up at personal expense to be clear about what I could publish and how.

So that’s some of the back story. During this time and since I’ve lost count of how many friends and colleagues asked me of I was ok as if somehow I’d taken leave of my senses. It cost me my relationship with WISE in Qatar who unwisely gave Bridge one of their now not-so-coveted WISE Awards. It drastically reduced my speaking and consulting engagements from the EdTech community and their investors. It took up a huge amount of my personal time and it also contributed to the deterioration of a number of personal relationships.

But I don’t regret it because actually I couldn’t stop myself and nobody made me do it. I am a passionate believer in the benefit of digital technologies for learning but what was happening here was, in my opinion, an abuse. On the flip side it was telling how many people from the teaching community have come up to shake my hand personally and tell me that what I was doing was important and that they couldn’t say this on social media for fear of losing their job. I mean, WTF?

So during this time that I migrated from EdTech Wundekinde to social, political and technological theorist/critic it has been my pleasure to take calls and provide materials for free to support national newspapers, television stations and even film companies on this subject. All of my material published on Medium is on a creative commons licence for use and distribution free of charge on a non-commercial basis as long as I am acknowledged. Think of it as a citation. I have put it out there to be used and to benefit anyone else who wants to learn more or research themselves.

One of these people was author and journalist Peg Tyre who contacted me in August 2016 and to whom I provided an abundance of material and spoke with for a number of hours in a recorded Skype call on August 11th with follow-up material. She was new to the Bridge story and explained that she was pitching to the New York Times. I was absolutely fine sharing with her as I am with others. The way news works these days is that it starts in the blogs and percolates up to old media so I know my role in this food chain. Hungry.

So I was delighted that almost a year later I saw Tyre’s article had been published by the New York Times which apart from its doe-eyed fawning of big money isn’t bad

I’m genuinely pleased that this article got published. To me the more mainstream this inspection and the more public a discourse we have about the future of school and the use of technology the better. But I was surprised that the writer and the New York Times couldn’t find half a dozen words to acknowledge the help that I had provided and the work upon which the NYT article is clearly based.

Look, this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve no doubt been guilty of a bit of plagiarising myself. I’ve been plagiarised and uncredited by bigger as well as smaller fish than this. But this time I’ve decided to take a stand and I wouldn’t have published this public had it not been for the response from the writer.

Anyway, enough of me. Here’s the correspondence:


On 28 Jun 2017, at 02:21, Graham Brown-Martin <graham@*********.com> wrote:

Hi Peg

I was pleased to see your article about Bridge made it out in the New York Times.

You know that all of the work that I did in my research was all self-funded and I spent GBP £3,000 on legal fees alone to ensure that I couldn’t be sued by Bridge and their investors at a time when, unsupported by mainstream publishers, I was prepared to take investigative journalistic and reputational risks to expose the Bridge story which I continue to work on in various forms also without 3rd party funding.

I place all of my work in this domain in the Creative Commons for use by anyone and all I ask is for a credit for this work where it has either been used in part or in whole or has been valuable in the creation of something new.

To remind you of the work I shared and we discussed at length in a phone conference on August 11th 2016 here are some of the links

I have all of the correspondence that we shared and I’m delighted, having read your published article in the NYT, that it was so useful to you.

I think you know what I’m saying here. Professional courtesy is a wonderful thing, you never know when you’ll need it returned.

With that in mind I would be grateful for your courtesy of forwarding this email to your editor at the NYT.

Regards

Graham Brown-Martin


On 28 Jun 2017, at 03:36, Peg Tyre <pegtyre1@*******.com> wrote:

Hi Graham —

Good to hear from you.

With all respect, I want to tell you that I worked a full year on this story. I traveled to East and West Africa. I spent many days in informal settlements and in hot jeeps and at times, took grave personal risks to do the kind of thorough on the ground reporting to produce the work I did. I interviewed over 150 plus people in 4 countries, parents, teachers, academy managers, local political bosses in Kenya, Uganda, and Libera, education officials in three countries, researchers, activists, the founders, the former founder, Bridge employees and former employees, board members, investors, philanthropists, international development experts as well as education experts on both sides of the aisle.

I did ask you had that investor deck, which was interesting. But when I asked you where you got it you couldn’t tell me (totally fair) but in keeping with standard journalistic practice, it was unusable to me after that since I couldn’t personally authenticate it.

Happy to forward it to my editor.

P.


On 28 Jun 2017, at 09:30, Graham Brown-Martin <graham@*************.com> wrote:

Dear Peg

Hot jeeps, informal settlements and grave personal risks?

Please spare me your white saviour syndrome of the burdens and hardships you faced in getting this story. I’m sorry, were you working in an active conflict or crisis zone?

Our conversations began when you contacted me before you had been commissioned by the New York Times and were still looking for Monrovia on a map.

Unless I’ve missed something here you spent some time travelling to and within a couple of African countries researching a commercial American school chain owned by Pearson with investment from the World Bank, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the British Government. Hardly Pulitzer Prize material.

Where were the grave personal risks? Was it the possibility of running out of mineral water in the back of a jeep or was it having to sleep in a 1 star hotel out in the bush?

Apologies but my wife is West African and grew up in some of the informal settlements you describe where some of our family members continue to live, happily incidentally. Please don’t presume to tell someone who has worked in active conflict zones about your grave personal risks and vehicles without air conditioning.

Am I to assume that you funded this entire venture yourself and that the New York Times published your article as a favour to you. I’m sure that if this is the case you will have donated any fees received to charity then. Is this the case?

Further, if I understand you correctly you’re saying that there was no value in the material, articles and communications that I provided you with. Correct?

I must be confused because I see entire blocks of your article in the NYT that looks like it was written by a college student attempting to hide their sources which can’t possibly be the case for such an accomplished writer as yourself.

So please help me out here, given that I wasn’t asking for anything more than an acknowledgement for providing some shoulder for you to stand on, what was the actual reason the NYT couldn’t afford half a dozen words in an otherwise decent article to provide that acknowledgement?

It’s not about money or fame, I want neither. It’s about professionally acknowledging the work another colleague performed for a full year before you pitched up and who did the investigative research that had hitherto been lacking from numerous government agencies, investment banks and US academic institutes including Stanford, Harvard and Brookings.

There must be something in the water over your side of the Atlantic. If nothing else this episode provides me with additional material for future publication.

I would be grateful if you continued your latent professional courtesy and pass this correspondence to your editor too. Perhaps they can muster an apology of your behalf.

Regards

Graham Brown-Martin

On 28 Jun 2017, at 12:03, Peg Tyre <pegtyre1@******.com> wrote:

will do.


Perhaps I’m just being oversensitive or my ego is bruised because the NYT or The Guardian didn’t entrust me with this story. But to be honest rather than completely invalidate my calling out of this with some nonsense about “grave personal risk” in Uganda, Kenya and Liberia she could have just said “sorry”

You decide.


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