NewsHour Launches New Weekly Education Segment

Earlier this week, the PBS NewsHour announced “Making the Grade,” what sounded like a big new initiative on education news coverage — a weekly education feature. But what does that mean, exactly?

Education coverage at the NewsHour is going through a somewhat tumultuous time (by public television standards). Longtime special correspondent John Merrow recently left, and EdWeek took over the production company that produced many of the NewsHour’s education segments. There was a controversial newscast about Success Academy, which led to an on-air apology and a follow-up examination by the station’s ombusdsman. There have been segments — and on-air interviews — that have seemed soft, and at least one that seemed to overstate the attrition rate for new teachers.

Introduced Tuesday night on air by Judy Woodruff as “a new night for education,” the co-host told viewers that “starting tonight, we will be expanding our coverage on Tuesdays with a new feature series called Making the Grade. We will provide in-depth reporting on education issues at every level, from early childhood and preschool, all the way through high school and beyond with the world of higher education… We will explore the most fundamental concerns in schools, communities and workplaces, and we will also cover plenty of approaches you may not have heard about yet.”

Three days later, I can tell you a few more details about the initiative via Nick Massella, Director of Audience Engagement and Communications for the NewsHour:

Asked how Making the Grade is going to be different from previous NewsHour offerings, Masella said (via email)  that it will “”expand on the reporting that we have been committed to and give us more opportunities to cover an even greater variety of topics in the field.”

The idea of creating a weekly education feature “is the natural extension of our growing education coverage, positive audience response to education stories on broadcast and online, an increase in local PBS station content creation through the American Graduate initiative, our recent partnership with Education Week…”

If I understand that statement correctly, local PBS stations are going to step up their production of segments that the national NewsHour will broadcast, and EdWeek too. But it’s mostly a NewsHour thing.

The hunger for more education news comes from audience and market research, according to Masella, who says that viewers say they’re “not finding satisfactory coverage from other broadcast and media outlets.” 

Take that, NPR and everyone else.

The series is to last indefinitely. There’s no set timeframe.

Funding comes from PBS and outside funders. No specific funders were identified on air and Masella did not identify specific outside funding sources.

According to the NewsHour’s Funders page, outside funders include the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and the Lucile Packard Foundation.

The issue of outside funding has come up for PBS as well as many other outlets, but not specifically about the NewsHour show (that I know of). We can surmise that the effort’s being supported by some or all of those folks, though someone will have to pry the information out of the NewsHour or scan 990 tax forms to be sure who it is and how much.

Staffing includes a newly hired Education Digital Producer. (Here’s the job description — am working on digging out the name of the person who got the job.) The digital education reporter position that was until recently staffed by Kyla Calvert is open (she’s going to take an assistant news director job at Wisconsin Public Radio).  The existing education team, according to the NewsHour’s About page: Vicky Pasquantonio is the Education Editor and Leah Clapman is the ME for Education. 

Education Week Video (formerly known as Learning Matters) is still looking for a replacement for long-time on-air special correspondent John Merrow.

They are down to a handful of candidates, says ME Kathleen Kennedy Manzo. Meantime, they’re  “working on a number of great education stories for the NewsHour and we’re eager to be a regular contributor to the Making the Grade segment.”

If the name sounds familiar, that might be because the NewsHour has used it in the past, including for a 2001-2002 series on New York City’s Schools. It’s also the title of an award-winning 2013 Peg Tyre article. Long ago, I’m told, NPR used to have a weekly education segment — on Mondays.

Related posts: NewsHour Issues On-Air Apology Over Success Academy SegmentNewsHour Defends Use Of Anonymous Sources In Success Charters SegmentThis PBS NewsHour Segment On Teacher Residency Is Too Soft; : Last Night’s PBS NewsHour May Have (Wildly) Overstated the Dropout Rate for New TeachersNewsHour Segment Producer Shares Rationale Behind 40 Percent New Teacher Attrition FigureShould Ifill Have Challenged Hagopian’s Testing Claims?

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.