Employees at the city Department of Education's press office have a new assignment: They are to scour a group of 24 education Web logs, e-mail Listservs, and Web sites in a hunt for factual errors and misinformation. Department officials are calling the unit the Truth Squad.
The squad's latest triumph should appear today on a Listserv operated by the parent organizer Leonie Haimson ó in the form of an e-mail message arguing that Ms. Haimson's characterization of summer school programs as underfunded was incorrect.
Press officers have also posted responses in the form of comments to the blogs they read.
"We try to keep track of what people are saying about us, and we respond periodically," a deputy schools chancellor, Christopher Cerf, who came up with the Truth Squad concept, said. "Because we believe in the truth."
Seven people make up the Truth Squad: the department's press secretary, David Cantor, five of his deputies, and the deputy communications director, Stephanie Simon.
They have been assigned blogs to read, the number of which varies depending on the person. A longtime deputy press secretary, Marge Feinberg, reads five: Gotham Gazette, the New York Observer's Politicker, and three television and radio station Web sites. Ms. Simon reads just one: This Week in Education, by the education writer Alexander Russo.
Department officials say the Truth Squad is a natural extension of their commitment to providing accurate information to the public.
"It's just correcting mistakes on a different kind of media," Mr. Cantor said.
Those whose blogs and communications are being scanned had a mixed reaction upon being told about the Truth Squad.
Ms. Haimson, who runs the parent Listserv and a blog, said: "It's good that the press operation actually hears our complaints, because Joel Klein doesn't seem to."
The president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, D.C., Chester Finn, whose Education Gadfly blog is monitored by a deputy press secretary, Melody Meyer, said the Truth Squad appears to be a logical update to an old practice.
"I'd rather see them use their money to fix NCLB or to give a kid a voucher," Mr. Finn said. "But I really do see this as a kind of natural evolution of a long-standing government activity."
The Manhattan Institute fellow whose writing at City Journal is being read by Mr. Cantor, Sol Stern, said: "It sounds like Orwell's Ministry of Truth. But I guess I should be flattered that the big boss monitors my writing."
A former press secretary for the city schools who served between 1990 and 1993, James Vlasto, said the Truth Squad is an example of how the department's press operation has become inflated. The press office now has 14 employees, including five deputy press secretaries, and a $1.3 million budget.
Mr. Vlasto said his staff was just five people: him, one deputy, two assistants, and one secretary.
Mr. Cantor challenged that characterization. In the past he has made the same point via the Truth Squad, posting a message to a Listserv inviting skeptics to visit his office.
"I think you'll be surprised," he wrote. "If you're any good at fixing a copy machine, we may put you to work.