Reviving the Education Beat.

The Brookings Institution recently released a study on education coverage that found reporting on the issue accounted for only 1.4 percent of all news. It's a paltry figure, and while the report provides some suggestions for how schools can make themselves more newsworthy, a lot of the blame falls on reporters:

Reporting should become more proactive and less reactive. Much of coverage today is episodic and driven by events. Focusing on long-term trends would help to inform communities about the content of education and ways schools are seeking to move forward.

One of the things that keeps many outlets from reporting more comprehensively on education is the imperative that every story have a time-sensitive "hook," or be absolutely singular. Journalism's penchant for the curio tends to overlook education, where policies are enacted gradually and continually. This is why most of the reporting you see in the mainstream press is about rankings, the flu, or Princeton using its applicants' data to log into Yale's admissions system.

But much of what drives this type of news is also demand: Do most readers want to know about how schools in the area are moving forward? Prospect readers might, but quite a few more people would much rather hear about Tiger Woods' crashing into a fire hydrant. It has always struck me that calls for journalism to report "real news" instead of fluff are inherently anti-populist. This isn't a bad thing, but it does mean good journalism doesn't make a good business model.

It seems to me that the future of this type of journalism is at nonprofit outlets like the Prospect, where Dana Goldstein has contributed in-depth education pieces for years. Unfortunately, there aren't very many of them, and they don't have the reach of larger organizations like the Post or Times, so even when the sort of reporting the Brookings report is calling for gets done, it often doesn't get the attention it deserves.

--Gabriel Arana

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