Former CNN Host Unveils Education News Site To Mixed Reactions

The Seventy Four, former CNN host Campbell Brown’s much-anticipated new education site, went live last night with a tweet and the above somewhat Shining-like video introduction, and will start pumping out original commentary and content in a couple of weeks.

According to the WSJ,  the outlet will start with 13 employees and $4 million in initial funding. The launch was noted in Mike Allen’s Playbook. The Jewish Journal noted that @TheSnydes, formerly of TIME and PEOPLE, would be Editorial Director and advisory Board members include BuzzFeed’s Jonathan Perelman, former Newsweeker Jonathan Alter, and Joe Marchese.  Longtime education writer @richardwhitmire is also on the board of advisers.

On Twitter, Snyder quipped that education news “runs A1 every day” at @the74.

Contributors will include New America’s Conor Williams and AJC’s Cynthia Tucker. Funders include Walton & Bloomberg (who also fund Education Post, one of this site’s founding sponsors). Others hired to be part of the effort include CQ Now alumna @cphenicie, education reporter Mareesa Nicosia, special projects coordinator @Lizzie_Thompson, former Mashable video journalist  @HeatherSaidTHAT. The executive editor Journal News/Lohud veteran @kjemoore15.

The reaction so far has been mixed, and predictable. On Twitter, @MargaretHoover exclaimed that “if anyone can influence the #POTUS debates to focus on education, it’s @campbell_brown.” The NYT’s Frank Bruni described it as “another education development sure to generate talk.” EduShyster wisecracked that the arrival of The74 would force Education Post to “up its game.” New America’s Conor Williams was forced to defend his independence: “I’m not ‘all in’ on charters.”

High aspirations are good, but The74 wouldn’t seem to have much chance to reach its stated goal of “making education a front-page story” no matter how good it might be. Recall that the $60 million EDIN’08 effort, which also had the aim of making education a top issue during the 2008 campaign cycle, struggled mightily, and Education Post, created in 2014 with $12 million in funding from many of the same sources, has made modest inroads in generating more attention and media coverage for education.

Another question will focus on credibility and balance.  Brown has become known for her pro-charter, pro-choice views and her efforts to revamp teacher tenure rules that she says make it hard to get even the most predatory and ineffective teachers out of the classroom. She won’t be the first publisher with strong views on the things her reporters are covering — LA School Report’s Jamie Alter Lynton comes to mind — but it will take a regular supply of neutral or reform-critical stories to convince anyone. 

Now that Michelle Rhee has stepped back from running StudentsFirst, Brown has become reform critics’ number-one object of enmity.  Indeed, the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blogger Jennifer Rubin noted that “the teachers unions can be expected to blast the effort and try to discredit it, but it is an important and timely effort.”

Last but not least, other media outlets focused on education may be eager to critique the new site, or feel threatened by the arrival of Brown and her media-savvy ways. The Hechinger Report’s Liz Willen tweeted at Frank Bruni that he should check out her “truly independent, 5-year-old non-partisan ed site.” Capital New York’s Eliza Shapiro asked “Will there be an explanation of how conflict of interest will be managed w/ 74/PEJ sharing office space?” PEJ [Parents for Education Justice] is the nonprofit Brown helped found to bring lawsuits against state education laws on behalf of parents of children at low-performing schools. 

Then again, Brown et al could prove everyone wrong.  Al Jazeera America and VICE have shown the visceral potential for video-based education coverage. Few education-focused media outlets are as strong in video or as well connected to bookers and show hosts as Brown and her team. At the same time, Jacobin, Salon, and In These Times (not to speak of Slate and others) have shown the potential for opinion- or even advocacy-based journalism.

Related posts: Colbert Interviews Campbell BrownCampbell Brown Vs. Matt DamonNY Mag Profiles Brown.

Disclosures: The Grade is funded in part by Education Post, which shares several funders with The74. Last summer and Fall, I spoke with Brown and others on the team about partnering with them but nothing came of it.

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.