Long-Form Journalism Still Important for Telling Education Stories

By Mark Walsh — May 22, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Nashville, Tenn.

In two earlier posts from the Education Writers Association meeting here, I wrote about news outlets’ efforts to use social media to improve their education reporting and engage with their audiences about it.

In a very short form, the 140-word tweet, reporters are using Twitter to report some education stories virtually in real time, I noted.

At the other end of the time spectrum, it was evident at the meeting here at Vanderbilt University that long-form journalism and a deep investment of time are still good tactics for telling the complex story of education.

One sign of that was that the public radio show “This American Life”'s report on “Harper High School” in Chicago, which had already won first prize in the investigative reporting-broadcast category of EWA’s national contest, was announced here as the winner of the Fred M. Hechinger grand prize from among all the category winners.

Reporter Linda Lutton and a team from “This American Life” spent five months at Harper High School, a Chicago school beset by violence. The result was a searing, two-part audio report. (Part one here, part two here.)

In accepting the Hechinger Prize at an awards banquet on May 18, Lutton said she had been “blown over by the response to the shows.”

A former newspaper reporter who now covers education for public radio station WBEZ in Chicago, Lutton said she was struck by how much goes on behind the scenes to make an effective radio report. And she lauded the dedication of her fellow education reporters, regardless of their medium.

“When we report on an issue as important as education, that is at the core of what our society is about,” she said.

Meanwhile, an even longer form of education journalism also received attention here. The documentary film “American Promise” follows two African-American boys as they navigate the education system from kindergarten through high school graduation.

I reviewed the 2 hour, 20 minute theatrical version of the film last October here in the blog. (A trimmed version appeared on public television’s “P.O.V.” series in January.) The film is about two boys from Brooklyn families that start out at the Dalton School in Manhattan.

One of the boys in the film is the son of the husband-wife filmmaking team. Michèle Stephenson, the mother of Idris Brewster, appeared at the EWA meeting to show an extended clip from the film and to discuss it.

“We were very interested in the longitudinal approach to filmmaking,” Stephenson said of herself and her husband, George Brewster.

She noted that the project had started with five boys as subjects, not two. But three of the boys dropped out for various reasons. “We made the decision to keep going, to keep the camera on,” she said. Such a long form was important to telling the story of black middle class families and the education of their children, Stephenson said.

“We don’t get to see enough of it” in the media, she said. “Statistics are not enough. The story is what allows change to happen.”

The film incorporates major stories on race that were going on during the period the filmmakers were focusing on two New York City black boys—the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the election of Barack Obama as the country’s first African-American president.

“There were so many things going on in society around” the boys during the filming, Stephenson said. “That’s the beauty of doing an longitudinal piece.”

A DVD of the film will be out in the fall.

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


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)