Taking a Long, Hard Look at Education Journalism

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com
Screengrab from a recent piece on Common Core testing coverage.

Before launching this blog, I only had the occasional chance to look into media coverage of education with any depth or regularity. Most of the time, what I had time to do was little more than asking a question or two via email or on Twitter or doing a bit of finger-wagging.

For example: my take on a recent Atlantic Magazine cover story about Starbucks’ effort to encourage employees’ college completion, or a correction to a recent NPR story about New Orleans, or a call for education reporters to get more visual in their reporting of things like the rewrite of the federal education law, or a quick take on Maggie Haberman’s NYT coverage of education pressures on the Clinton campaign. You can check out the old Media Watch category to see most of these kinds of things that I’ve written in the past.

Here and there, however, I have gotten the chance to take a closer look at stories, which might give you a preview of the kinds of things I’m going to be doing here:

One example is this recent piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about mainstream coverage of Common Core testing and opt-outs. It observed that major media outlets weren’t all doing a great job capturing the difficult-to-capture nuances of the opt-out movement and were as a result giving readers/viewers a simplistic view of the situation. The journalist behind the PBS NewsHour segment that was included in my critique, John Merrow, didn’t think much of the piece.

Another example from earlier in the year is this look into a much-corrected story published by The Atlantic.com about demographic changes at New York City’s community college system. I couldn’t persuade the two writers of the piece to talk about how things had gone awry, but I did get some interesting thoughts from the magazine about its editorial process and the partnership with an outside nonprofit that helped pay for the reporting that was corrected.

Though they can sometimes be awkward and difficult to pull off, these are the kinds of pieces that I love to do and am going to be doing here in the upcoming weeks and months: digging into major education stories and helping reveal their strengths and weaknesses. (I see some good things out there, too!)

As always, if you’ve got any thoughts about particularly good or bad examples of education reporting, or if you see a story that is missing something important or gotten some key facts wrong, please send them to me at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.