New Approach In Seattle Includes Live Events, Social Media (& Also “Solutions”)

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First things first: The Solutions Journalism Network is hosting an event for education journalists in Seattle in late January, according to this announcement: SJN’s workshop for education journalists.

“The solutions approach helps journalists fulfill an important responsibility of the education beat: helping the public understand which ideas, plans and programs hold real promise for fixing the array of problems in schools, and revealing the real-world challenges involved in changing mindsets and behaviors or institutions and systems.

The event takes place January 25 and 26 and is being co-hosted with The Hechinger Report and The Seattle Times. Open to up to 20 reporters, the SJN event can include travel costs and lodging. Some of the speakers mentioned in the tentative agenda include Linda Darling-Hammond, the Seattle Times’  and The Learning Accelerator’s John Branam.

Based on this recent Knight Foundation blog post (How the Seattle Times Education Lab engaged the community in its coverage of school discipline) the education team at the Seattle Times has done some really interesting things — including guest columnists, follow-up pieces (rather than the usual publish-and-move-on approach), and a couple of live events. Then there was a Facebook page, which led to more stories and a change in district policy.

“Many groups and individuals share the credit for this policy change. But we also believe that Education Lab elevated the conversation to a level where policymakers took notice. It connected parents, teachers, students and community leaders who were working independently on the issue through its online and in-person events…. Most importantly, Education Lab’s coverage anchored the discussion in a promising approach that showed strong results elsewhere, introducing a solution to an issue that could have become a polarizing debate about problems.

The paper’s Education Lab was named co-winner for the Associated Press Media Editors’ first “Community Engagement Award,” and the paper has now expanded its approach to other beats (housing, elections, etc.)

What makes this interesting is that they’re not just slapping “solutions” on something, or even just generating stories that mix progress as well as setbacks and conflict.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe is trying its hand at the approach (albeit with different funders), the Hechinger Report helped produce a guide for education writers and editors who are interested in the approach, BRIGHT has been given an extension (and a new editor), and the AFT is trying something called Schoolhouse Voices that has something of a solutions feel. 

I’m hot and cold about the solutions approach, depending on the day — this latest NYT story about Altschool makes me cringe despite its attempts at being both curious and skeptical. But I pretty consistently think it’s worth considering. 

Related posts: “Solutions” Journalism Gets A New Education GuideRe-Imagining Education Coverage: Failure & SuccessWhat The Gates Foundation’s Learned About Funding Education JournalismThe Promise and Peril of “Solutions” JournalismBoston Globe Launches Expanded Education EffortNew Year, New Education Site.

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.