I was a newspaper reporter for 17 years and I loved it. But Ben Chapman of the New York Daily News summed up the profession in a simple tweet last month: “The pay sucks and the hours are long. But at the end of the day, everybody hates you.”
But as the number of newspaper reporters has collapsed, something unusual has happened. This is the golden age of education reporting. No other topic is covered with the depth and zest of education – from sweeping stories about national trends to the tragedies of school violence to thoughtful analysis of the new world of educational reform.
And this is good news for anyone who cares about the future of our country. Without a strong press keeping watch and sharing the latest trends and studies, the world of education will be more susceptible to the “fake news” that has afflicted other aspects of our daily life. We need strong reporting now more than ever as so many are relying on the education system to elevate our communities, our countries and our world to a better and brighter tomorrow.
I went to Los Angeles last month for the Education Writers Association’s annual national seminar. I expected a dreary affair with lots of talk about “the good ol’ days.”
I was wrong. There were about 350 reporters from all corners of the country. By and large they were young and whip-smart. The meetings were packed and tackled everything from the uber-wonkiness of ESSA data to thoughtful overviews of charter schools and personalized learning. And it was a diverse group of young men and women working for newspapers, radio stations and start-up websites.
For most of the 20th century, the education beat was the domain of brand new reporters – mostly female – who generally wanted to move on to meatier beats like politics or government.
But the reporters at EWA were truly experts and spoke with authority. What was once a stepping stone in a reporter’s career is now a home for many.
And it took me an hour or so to realize that something was missing from the break-out sessions and conversations: Nobody was yelling and nobody was angry. There was plenty of disagreement, and much of it was passionate. But absent was the shrieking and name-calling that dominates way too much of our daily news diet.
There are a number of reasons for the strength of education reporting. First, virtually everyone has been to school and had a family member in school. It is the most personal topic to most of us and a commonality that brings us together. No media outlet wants to ignore the topic that touches the lives of virtually every consumer.
The second reason is the emergence of specialized outlets devoted to education and nothing else.
Chalkbeat has a national presence and has expanded rapidly to provide local coverage in seven cities. The Hechinger Report dives deeper into education innovation and equity. And The 74 has become the edu-world’s version of The New York Times with sweeping coverage and celebrity names. All of them share their work with traditional media outlets. And there are many, many more.
Freed from the constraints of one-upping everyone in competition for a click, the edu-world reporters spend most of their time actually researching and writing.
Too many mainstream reporters, and the people who they quote, think the job is only done properly when it is fueled with conflict and outrage.
We have enough conflict and outrage as this particular moment in time. And its growing role in journalism has not elevated the discourse or moved us forward as a country.
I left L.A. with a smile and a hope that journalism isn’t dead, it’s just going to school.
About the author
Joe leads ExcelinEd’s state-level communications and media outreach. Previously, Joe was a newspaper reporter in Florida and the Midwest. He was also communications director for the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Children in Families. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in English Literature.