What is the future of education journalism? For the past several years, we have been hearing how national and regional newspapers have either dramatically reduced or downright eliminated their education news teams (with the most recent being the Associated Press’ plans to no longer have a single national K-12 education reporter, and instead distribute education responsibilities across a team of six great reporters who already have other responsibilities).
A reduced education reporter pool undoubtedly leads to reduced education coverage. Last year, at a time when all in the education sector were abuzz about Race to the Top, i3, teacher quality, teacher layoffs, and general education reform, Brookings released its Invisible report, finding that only 1.4 percent of the national news in the first three quarters of 2009 was about education. (A caveat, though, there are many who raise questions about Brookings’ methodology, particularly its decision that “education reporting” only counted if it was on the front page of the A section of a newspaper. By the same measure, sports also didn’t score highly, but we all know that virtually every newspaper in the country has an entire daily section dedicated to athletics.)
Earlier this week, Brookings released a follow-up to Invisible, Re-Imagining Education Journalism. This latest report provides some very interesting insights as to the future of education journalism, including a look at how news is delivered (news aggregators, blogs, etc.) and alternative business models (subsidized content, public support, etc.) Eduflack waded into a similar discussion a little more than a year ago.
Such discussions are not merely academic. Case in point — the launch of the Hechinger Report. For those who have not yet checked it out this week, it is definitely worth your time. A product of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College Columbia University and the brainchild of Hechinger leader and former LA Times ed reporter Richard Lee Colvin, the Hechinger Report is the future of education media TODAY. In its first week, Hechinger is offering original news articles, opinion pieces, analyses, and blogs. It is focusing content on the full educational spectrum — early childhood education, K-12, community colleges, and higher education. And it is doing it with real, professional journalists (as opposed to citizen journalists like Eduflack).
News outlets are free to use Hechinger content, as long as they credit Hechinger. And Team Colvin is also working with national news outlets to use the experienced Hechinger team to supplement existing education news coverage, particularly when it comes to investigative pieces.
While it too early to see the full impact Hechinger Report may have on education news and education policy, the potential couldn’t be greater. By tapping into experienced education journalists, Hechinger offers a level of quality and knowledge that is unmatched (particularly in the education space). By taking the time to investigate, analyze, and generally look at issues at greater length, they are filling a role that is unfilled by newspapers that are just looking for eight-inch stories on the latest school board meeting. And by pushing out a significant amount of high-quality content, they are reminding all of us of the relevance of good education news coverage.
Personally, I think Colvin is really onto something here. While Hechinger Report may never become an education AP (and it is not intended to become so), it does stand a real chance of becoming an education-focused ProPublica. It’s not looking to replace existing coverage; it is focused on enhancing and supplementing current work. It makes a publication’s education coverage better, providing richer analysis and exploration than a daily newspaper grind may allow. And no pressure, I believe that means the Pulitzer for investigative journalism is due to Hechinger in 2013 or 2014 by ProPublica’s measure then.
If we are serious about focusing more attention on education improvement, we must broaden the dialogue and expand the discussion on the key issues of the day. And that happens by supporting efforts like Hechinger Report. Go ahead, steal Hechinger’s content. I’m sure Colvin won’t mind!