Who Will Replace Merrow On EdWeek-Run PBS NewsHour Segments?

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There are lots of exciting angles to the news that Editorial Projects in Education (the nonprofit outfit that runs EdWeek) is acquiring Learning Matters (which is John Merrow’s long-running nonprofit education media organization), but the most immediate and fun aspect that I can think of about the deal is speculation over who will replace Merrow as one of the on-air correspondents (who introduces segments, asks questions, nods in response to answers, etc.).

As you may have noticed, Learning Matters — whose segments often appear on the PBS NewsHour — has had two correspondents sharing duties over the past few years: Merrow and John (“JT”) Tulenko. According to EdWeek, Tulenko will stay on as a correspondent and will like the rest of the Learning Matters team remain in New York City. The second, as-yet-unnamed correspondent will work out of Washington DC (well, Bethesda), which is where EdWeek is located. That’s where the fun part comes.

Neither Kathleen Kennedy Manzo nor Virginia “Ginny” Edwards would tell me who the new correspondent might be — I don’t think they quite know themselves — but here are some guesses at who might be in the running:

It’s possible that they’ll pick someone already on the EdWeek payroll, especially given that some of the current staffers have broadcast experience and obviously know education fairly well. Ben Herold did some radio when he was in Philadelphia. Arianna Prothero came out of public radio in Miami. It’s also possible that there’s someone at the NewsHour who’s interested enough to move over to EdWeek (since nobody calls it EPE). 

My guess is that they’ll look for someone who knows education at least a bit, has some broadcast experience (radio or TV), who’s already in DC. That could include someone from the NPR national team, or — my guess — WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza (whom I’ve met socially as well as heard on air). Maybe they’ll try and lure WNYC’s Yasmeen Kahn down to try out for the job. There’s a great young public TV correspondent from Chicago’s WTTW, Brandis Friedman, who might be interested and ready or might like where she is. Former KPCC LA education reporter Vanessa Romo just accepted a Spencer Fellowship but that only lasts until May, really, so maybe she’s a candidate, too?

Let me know if you have any other, better ideas — or if my ideas are all wrong.

Other tidbits that I can tell you with greater certainty include that Edwards says she has raised $4.5 million to support the new operation over the next three years, led by a commitment from the Wallace Foundation, and that EdWeek is building a new studio in the Bethesda office to do more video for online and broadcast.  

There’s no money changing hands between EdWeek and Merrow, and just one board member from Learning Matters is coming over to EdWeek, which is apparently why it’s an acquisition rather than a sale or merger.

Edwards also tells me that there’s an MOU with the NewsHour spelling out the collaboration between the two organizations, which have for many years operated on little more than a handshake between Merrow and his counterparts at the NewsHour. Learning Matters without the NewsHour isn’t nearly as appealing as the two of them together, so that makes sense to nail that down as part of the deal. 

The idea of merging the two organizations has been around for years, according to Edwards, but talks started in earnest last Spring when Merrow told insiders (including me) that he was going to retire soon but hoped to find a way for Learning Matters to continue. Edwards had been on Merrow’s board for a time. Learning Matters has been a content partner to EdWeek. “There is only one organization with the expertise, talent, and reputation to continue this work, and that’s EdWeek,” says Merrow in a press release.

EdWeek has experimented with video content over the years, and won an award from EWA for a feature focused on Native American education, but has never done all that much with it — and has never had access to a broadcast outlet like the NewsHour.  

The NewsHour has experimented with online coverage of education in between broadcast segments, and has an education page but no dedicated staffer covering the beat to my knowledge. For what seems like forever, the vast majority of its field segments (those including coverage of schools and live events outside the studio) have been provided by Learning Matters. 

Given all the other options that the NewsHour could have explored — including handling education internally or farming it out to any number of other production companies who would have jumped at the chance — and the challenges of the last few years in journalism over all, EdWeek can be forgiven the swagger in its release:  

“At a time when many news organizations have struggled to sustain their audiences and even their businesses, the nonprofit Education Week is a success story,” brags EdWeek. “The legacy news operation has not only survived the media disruption, but leveraged it, catalyzing its authoritative coverage with even more engaging and diversified forms of journalism.”

I’ve put out calls to Merrow and to the NewsHour and will let you know what if any additional information I get back from them.

Related posts: Last Night’s PBS NewsHour May Have (Wildly) Overstated the Dropout Rate for New TeachersSome High-Poverty Districts Exceed Federal Opt-Out Limit.

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.