School Segregation’s Back (In the News)

Once in a while rival outlets end up covering the same topic at roughly the same time.  As noted in Education Week that’s what happened not too long ago: San Francisco Papers Squabble Over Special Reports on School Diversity.

Both publications — the long-running San Francisco Chronicle and the upstart SF Public Press  — took on the resegregation of SF schools since race-based assignment was ended 14 years ago. They came to much the same conclusions, focused on similar kinds of situations, and included graphics packages that even looked somewhat the same:

Screenshot 2015-05-29 15.57.42

Above: Screengrab from the Public Press version of the story.

 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.08.14
Above: Screengrab  from the Chronicle version of the story.

The Public Press, which published first, wrote about the coincidence in a post titled “How a Small Nonprofit Newsroom Leads Education Coverage in San Francisco” and one of its staffers lamented the lack of credit given by the larger paper to the smaller. The Chronicle claimed to have started reporting the story last summer and to have pursued its work independently. 

Take a look and make up your own mind about which version is better or whether the Chronicle should have credited the Public Press.  

My main contribution is to note a larger dynamic in which a long-ignored topic (school segregation) is once again a hot topic for coverage of schools.  Nikole Hannah-Jones, the ProPublica reporter who’s now moving over to the NYT, recently told a group of writers that initially she didn’t know whether anyone would be interested in her piece: Segregation Now: The Resegregation of America’s Schools. “I wasn’t sure anyone would read it, but I had to report it.”

But the appetite is there, other influential writers like The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehesi Coates are addressing residential and academic segregation in their work, and so we may see a slew of school segregation stories the likes of which haven’t been produced in years.

In her acceptance speech to the Education Writers Association annual conference this spring, Hannah-Jones challenged reporters: ” “If you’re not writing about segregation, I ask you to question why.”

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.