Advocate, Former TV Anchor Campbell Brown to Launch Education News Site

By Mark Walsh — June 23, 2015 4 min read
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Campbell Brown, the TV journalist-turned-education advocate, announced a new online news organization Tuesday to cover efforts to improve the education system with what her co-founder described as “a point of view.”

The site is called The Seventy Four, referring to the 74 million U.S. schoolchildren, and will debut July 13.

Brown is a former anchor for CNN and NBC who has plunged into advocacy for ending teacher tenure and promoting charter schools. She is a founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a New York City-based group that is suing New York state to change teacher tenure, discipline, and seniority laws. That suit, modeled on the Vergara v. California case, is pending in a state trial court.

Romy Drucker, the co-founder and chief executive of the Seventy Four, said in an interview Tuesday that the new news site will seek to elevate coverage of education.

“We are independent and nonpartisan, but we also have a point of view,” said Drucker, who until 2012 worked on school reform initiatives for then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “We are going to do so passionately and relentlessly.”

That point of view will revolve around issues of teacher quality, educational options for families, and testing and the Common Core State Standards, Drucker said.

“Our view is the system is broken for a lot of kids in the country,” Drucker said.

With funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies (the former mayor’s organization), the Walton Family Foundation, investment firm head Jonathan Sackler, and the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, the Seventy Four has hired 13 staff members, some of whom have extensive experience in education journalism. (The Walton Family Foundation is an underwriter of Education Week‘s coverage of parent-empowerment issues.)

Steven Snyder, a former assistant managing editor at Time magazine, is editorial director of the site. Regular contributors will include Cynthia Tucker, a former columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a Pulitzer Prize winner; and Conor Williams, a senior researcher at New America Foundation’s early education Initiative, who previously worked for the website Talking Points Memo.

The site plans to incorporate the use of video and cover education issues in the 2016 presidential election.

“I have always felt that education has gotten short shrift” in presidential politics, Drucker said. “Election 2016 will give us a meaningful opportunity to drive the conversation among the candidates.”

A press release put out by the website says it will “break through the clutter of stale education news and make an impact.”

‘Entrenched Interests’

Brown is a Louisiana native who rose through the television industry ranks to become a White House correspondent for NBC News and the host of her own prime-time show on CNN. She stepped down from the show in 2010 amid low ratings. She then began focusing on education advocacy.

Brown is married to Daniel Senor, a former aide to President George W. Bush who became the chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He is on the board of directors of Students First NY, an organization which advocates for charter schools and good teaching in public schools.

“There are a lot of entrenched interests that are standing in the way of some of the best possibilities for innovation” in education, Brown told The Wall Street Journal, which broke the news of the details of the site in a story Tuesday.

The Seventy Four’s board of directors includes Jonathan Perelman of the website Buzzfeed, TrueX founder and CEO Joe Marchese, Howard Wolfson of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Andrew J. Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners and Real Clear Education, and the author and journalist Jonathan Alter.

Concerns about Advocacy, Transparency

LynNell Hancock, a journalism professor at Columbia University and the director of the Spencer Fellowship program for mid-career education journalists, said she had concerns about the new site based on Brown’s advocacy priorities.

“It would be wonderful to have another independent news organization focused in a serious way on covering education in America—one dedicated to practicing the highest standards of unbiased, non-partisan journalism,” Hancock said via email. “This startup has all the earmarks of being something else—a news site with a specific advocacy agenda.”

“Any site that wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate source of education news needs to be transparent about its funding, its mission, and needs to show through its choice of stories, and its thorough, evidence-based reporting that it can be trusted,” Hancock added. “Campbell Brown has an uphill battle on her hands to prove that this will be a source of independent news, as she’s claiming.”

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized Campbell Brown’s departure from her prime-time CNN show.]

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.