New models for education journalism

reimagining education journalism

Reimagining Education Journalism
By Darrel West, Russ Whitehurst, and E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Governance Studies at Brookings, 2010.  PDF, 24 p.
Read the report

Teachers do it.
Journalists do it.
Researchers do it.

They all bemoan the lack of coverage of education in mass media.

In this case, three Brookings Institution writers go beyond complaining to imagine ways of improving and expanding the coverage of education.

Their white paper, released this month, summarizes new trends in education coverage and how major news organizations are re-inventing their futures.

In a 2009 study, these authors documented that (a) education makes up only 1.4 percent of the total front page and prime news hour coverage, and that (b) much of that 1.4 percent focuses not on classrooms and school reform, but on the politics of education.

This report, issued May 11, outlines new delivery systems, including niche publications, news aggregators, social media, and new content providers. Since readers of this blog are familiar with those topics, I won’t elaborate. But the report goes on to describe three business models for education journalism: subsidized content, for-profit models, and indirect public subsidies.

The Carnegie Corporation subsidizes K-12 education coverage on National Public Radio because it’s a Carnegie focus area and because NPR reaches Carnegie’s target audience of practitioners and policymakers.

Successful for-profit models of education journalism include The Chronicle of Higher Education and  InsideHigherEd.

The authors point out that U.S. has a long history of direct or indirect public support for various publications. For example, newspapers and magazines long have benefitted from subsidized postage rates. They refer to the recent book, The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols, who suggest a tax credit for the “first $200” spent on daily newspapers. This approach focuses assistance on consumers, not individual news outlets. This model would allow subscribers, not  the government, to direct the flow of the indirect subsidies.

Beyond business models per se, education news organizations are developing new partnerships that benefit readers and the organizations themselves. Education Week stories will soon appear on the Associated Press newswire. The weekly also partners with the McClatchey Wire and with education aggregators such as ASCD Smart Brief.

The Center for Public Integrity partners with two dozen news organizations to offer its “Investigative News Network” for watchdog journalism.

The authors caution us to not forget print media.  “Millions of citizens, notably including parents, still rely on older media forms for most their information on education,” they say. “Despite newsrooms cutbacks, the ‘old’ media still provide most of the daily coverage of school systems across the country.” And that, they argue, presents an opportunity to improve on something that already exists. They suggests creating alliances among education reporters around the country. Newspapers themselves can do more to share coverage. The Education Writers Association can become a focal point for such partnerships.

“The dilemma facing all media is figuring out how to get readers or advertisers to pay for online content,” they observe. “Determining how to migrate from an ecosystem with a large amount of free online material to paid content is the chief contemporary puzzle.”

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