Unsolicited Advice On The Launch Of “The Seventy-Four”

Why Campbell Brown’s new site/advocacy effort should imitate VICE or Al Jazeera America not Politico or EDIN’08:

Here’s an eight-minute version of an Aspen Institute event hosted by The 74’s Campbell Brown in which three mainstream journalists (Capehart, Dickerson, and Bruni) talk about whether the public (and political journalists?) care about education — and in what context? 

So Campbell Brown’s new education site/advocacy effort “The Seventy-Four” has launched, including a couple of stories (behind the NJ opt-out movement, Miami’s Alberto Carvalho, NCLB and funding equity), a bit of commentary (Conor Williams on reformers’ wonky narrowness and Richard Whitmire on a Coast Guard pilot who applied to TFA), and some highly-abbreviated video of the Aspen Ideas Festival education and politics discussion.

At first glance, The Seventy-Four looks and feels a bit like like BRIGHT, the Gates-funded Solutions Journalism site on Medium, or maybe Pacific Standard (but much less wonky), or maybe a modernized Huffington Post education page (complete with feel-good story about internment camp survivors finally graduating). There are some Vox-like card stacks (on bullying and charter schools).  It broadly shares some of the same pro-charter, pro-accountability sensibilities of Education Post (one of this site’s funders, along with the AFT). Click here for Brown’s explanation of the editorial approach the site is going to take, which she calls “advocacy journalism.”

The other obvious comparison is to EDIN’08, which was an advocacy group rather than a media outlet. The Seventy-Four is going to host presidential campaign events for candidates in New Hampshire and Iowa, sponsored by the American Federation for Children. 

As you may recall, EDIN’08 — the Gates and Broad-funded effort to make education the top issue for 2008 — sponsored but didn’t host its own education events for candidates way back in 2008 in part because, I’m reminded, its nonprofit funders wouldn’t let it have 501c(4) status and forced it to operate as a regular old-fashioned 501c(3). Another thing that EDIN’08 didn’t get to do but you can find on The Seventy-Four are candidate scorecards. However, these cards don’t grade or rank the candidates (so far as I can see) so it’s hard to tell whether they will have any bite that campaigns, journalists, or voters care about.

The site/group has been in the works for a while now. In January, NY Magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted that Brown has become a “hate figure” for her opponents (replacing Michell Rhee). In June, the WSJ noted that it would launch with 13 employees and $4M in funding commitments.

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What’s missing? The site has launched without a social media manager and senior editor, which seems like a pretty frightening way to start. There’s not a ton of education-specific journalism experience on the masthead so far — no education writer veterans — though sometimes non-education journalists bring a fresh eye (and we don’t know what freelance assignments have been made).

Perhaps most troubling, there’s no VICE- or Al Jazeera-like video of kids and parents and teachers in schools (though my understanding is that there’s going to be).

The Seventy-Four is going to need narrative segments like these if it hopes to shine.

Why? Brown’s cable TV news connections – she’s on Fox and Friends this morning — are only going to get her so far (and only so many people really watch cable TV news these days).

Another do-gooder education news site probably isn’t going to cut it no matter how well it’s executed, given how crowded the field already is (Chalkbeat, Hechinger Report, Politico, EdWeek, etc.) and the costs and limitations of doing investigative newsgathering like ProPublica.

And we’re already over-saturated with education commentary and analysis with the publicity-crazed think tanks, sites like Education Post and Huffington Post, regular toe-dips from mainstream columnists like Kristof, Bruni, and Blow, and the opinions/first person sections in the Hechinger Report, EdWeek, and The Atlantic.

But vivid, visceral video — easily-shareable real-world stories — might be able to gain some traction and make education relevant to people without children in school, beyond parents’ immediate concerns about their children’s education, and get into the media and political mainstream.

That’s what I hope The Seventy-Four does, anyway. In any case, it’s fun to have them join the fray and I’m excited to see how they do. 

Related posts: Former CNN Host Unveils Education News Site To Mixed ReactionCampbell Brown’s EdNews Site Launch VideoCampbell Brown Vs. Matt DamonColbert Interviews Campbell Brown.

Disclosures: This blog is funded in part by Education Post, which shares several funders with The Seventy-Four. 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.