Don’t Miss Out on BuzzFeed’s “Business of Education” Coverage

image from www.edwingouldfoundation.org
What a treat it was finally getting to meet BuzzFeed’s new(ish) business of education reporter, Molly Hensley-Clancy (center, above) yesterday and talk education journalism on a lovely summer day.

The fast-talking reporter  — “former Yalie, always a Minnesotan,” according to her Twitter bio — is really excited about education journalism. As she should be.  She’s getting to write about a topic she thinks is interesting and important, for an exciting, fast-growing operation, from a perspective that doesn’t duplicate all the other education coverage out there. And, somewhat unusually in the current era, Hensley-Clancy seems to be able to do the kind of writing she wants to.  

After a quick tour of the open-plan office and a wave at the business team (of which Hensley-Clancy is a member), we went downstairs and sat in Madison Square Park (which is not, FYI, anywhere near Madison Square Garden). Some young bearded dudes were shooting a video of some kind, one of them wearing one of those “COLLEGE” t-shirts you see everywhere these days. Blissed-out tourists wandered towards Eataly and/or the Flatiron Building (taking pictures of which is a mysterious obsession).

Though she’s only a year and change into her BuzzFeed stint, it feels like the Minneapolis Public Schools alumna has been doing education and/or journalism much longer. Her college work-study assignment was in the New Haven school system.  She worked as a researcher for Anya Kamenetz (now at NPR). She got to know Stephanie Simon’s work during a stint at Reuters. She lives in Brooklyn (which is pretty much entirely filled with educators and education journalists). She’s already been recognized (by the Edwin Gould Foundation) for her writing (an exposé on for-profit Corinthian College). 

Don’t really think of BuzzFeed as a place for serious journalism? Fair enough. BuzzFeed came to fame with viral lists and gifs (including education-related examples like Which Of Buzzfeed’s 23 “Favorite Teacher” Moments Is Best?,  Top 9 Things Every College Freshman Needs To Know (from the USDE), or 33 Signs You’re A New Teacher).

But the outlet now has a large and growing set of traditional journalists putting out conventional news coverage. As a result, there’s no pressure to churn out stories, she says, or to write only pieces that are going to grab lots of eyeballs. There are some lighter stories, of course, as when she used Snapchat to interview a teenager, or took a look at her college application essay (and realized it was sort of cheesy). Hensley-Clancy claims she rarely does list-based pieces — that’s what the “Buzz” team does — but admits that it was one of a couple of lists she’s done that went as close to viral as she’s gotten so far. (It was a list describing the reasons that Corinthian was in trouble, which blew up a few months after it was posted when alumni found and shared it widely on Facebook.)

Some of my favorites of her stories include:

Can Baltimore County Buy Computers For 100K Kids w/o Messing It Up? 

The University Of Phoenix Wants Its Reputation Back 

NY charter school kids to rally on same day as teachers — again!

How Lumina Became A Force In Higher Education 

How Wall Street Tactics Are Showing Up In The Classroom 

For-Profit Charter Operator In Jeb Bush Video Has A Checkered Past –  

Why Education Startups Rarely Go Public

Report Slams Chain Of 11 Virtual Charters That Graduate Just 36% Of Students

The downside of the setup at BuzzFeed is that Hensley-Clancy is the only education reporter in the newsroom, and her editors aren’t education specialists. She’s part of a business team that includes traditional Wall Street coverage as well as a labor reporter, and a food reporter.

To make up for the absence of other education journos, Hensley-Clancy says she’s asked for and gotten helpful advice from the folks at Hechinger and from her EWA-provided mentor, Chicago Tribune veteran Diane Rado, and from her college professors. 

While I’ve questioned the depth and usefulness provided by the glut of outlets covering education in recent years (commercial and foundation-funded alike), BuzzFeed seems to have found a useful niche (and broken news I care about). How money affects education is a great way to come at the issue, that sometimes gets lost otherwise between classroom coverage, edtech coverage, and policy/political coverage. I also haven’t heard any serious complaints or concerns about BuzzFeed’s education coverage — feel free to send or point me to issues if there are some. (I wonder what reform types, higher ed folks, and education entrepreneurs think.)

This next year, Hensley-Clancy says she’s hoping to come up with compelling ways to cover education companies’ earnings reports (which otherwise can be pretty dull), and to expand her coverage to include nonprofits (who can be just as ineffective and wasteful as for-profits, really). 

You can see a full archive of Hensley-Clancy’s stories here. As for Twitter, it’s @mollyHC, not @molly_HC — no matter how many times I get it wrong (or what it says in her email signature).

Related posts: BuzzFeed Hiring “Business Of Education” ReporterUnion Blog Post Fails To Meet BuzzFeed StandardsMeet BuzzFeed’s New Business-Focused Education ReporterComparing Coverage of Clinton-AFT Meeting Reveals TidbitsNYROB Critique of Digital Journalism Praises Hechinger Model.

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.