Published Online: May 11, 2010
Published in Print: May 19, 2010, as Online Venture Offers New Source of Education Journalism

New Online Source of Education Journalism Launched

Start-up Boosts Coverage Even as Traditional Media Scale Back Focus on Topic

A new, online venture for education journalism officially launched last week, just as a Washington think tank released its second report examining the decline of school coverage in traditional media and the rise of new models for reporting on education issues.

The Hechinger Report—a nonprofit production of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, based at Teachers College, Columbia University—will disseminate its coverage of national education issues through its website, as well as through partnerships with other news organizations.

The venture joins a wave of nonprofit news-content providers, many of them online-only. That trend holds promise for plugging widening gaps in coverage of education issues, especially in daily newspapers, argues the new report, released by the Brookings Institution.

A December report by the think tank said education coverage barely registered in newspapers and on news websites, on television news broadcasts, or on the radio in the first nine months of 2009. ("Is Education News Falling Off Front Pages?," Dec. 9, 2009.) Fellows at the Brookings Institution used their May 11 report to highlight how education journalism is being transformed into a digital product often provided by nonjournalists.

Through interviews with people in the field, including with Virginia B. Edwards, the editor-in-chief of Education Week and the president of its nonprofit parent company, Editorial Projects in Education, the authors explore alternative business models—such as foundation subsidies, for-profit ventures, and indirect public subsidies.

While the authors say new business models will be critical for saving education journalism, they caution that in-depth reporting practices should not be sacrificed.

“We conclude that while education journalism faces great challenges, it is transforming into a new digital form that looks and behaves differently than the models to which we’re accustomed. It has clear strengths, including immediacy, interactivity, and diversity,” the authors write. “But these virtues must be linked more effectively to the delivery of an old-fashioned product, namely in-depth substantive reporting.”

The report’s co-authors are Brookings senior fellow Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the former director of the federal Institute of Education Sciences; E.J. Dionne Jr., a senior fellow who is also a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post; and Darrell M. West, the vice president and director of governance studies at Brookings.

New Role for Institute

The Hechinger Report, meanwhile, has published seven articles in other news outlets, including two in Education Week on early-childhood-education issues, Richard Lee Colvin, the director of the Hechinger Institute, noted in an e-mail.

The Hechinger Institute was founded in 1996 to provide career training and professional development to education journalists. But as the number of reporters and editors assigned to education coverage has declined in mainstream newspaper and television newsrooms, Mr. Colvin has recast the institute as a news-gathering operation.

The news outlet has three full-time editors and one full-time staff writer, and it will draw extensively on freelance journalists, Mr. Colvin said. Contributing writers will also receive reporting contracts, and the organization has partnered with MinnPost, a nonprofit news organization based in Minneapolis, to publish coverage of higher education issues in the Midwest, he said.

The Hechinger Report is funded by four philanthropies: the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development, and the Joyce Foundation. The Gates and Joyce foundations have also provided grant support for Education Week. At this point, news organizations that publish content from The Hechinger Report do not pay for it, Mr. Colvin said.

Vol. 29, Issue 32, Page 14

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