Educators often express frustration that the media just “don’t get” what they do. They argue that news stories about education would be more fair and balanced if reporters had greater insight into the difficult work that teachers, principals, and superintendents do every day and the tremendous challenges they face.
And, in some cases, that may be true.
At the same time, I often ask educators how much they know about what it’s like to work in media today. If we expect reporters to approach their stories with a keen awareness of schools and those who lead them, should we not in turn develop a deeper understanding of their jobs, the topics that interest them, and the pressures under which they operate?
A new report helps shed light on the men and women who cover our schools. The Education Writers Association recently released State of the Education Beat 2016, the result of surveys and interviews with more than 400 journalists from across the country who cover education, including both preK-12 and higher education.
The report, the first of its kind, provides insights into a number of areas, including journalists’ perspectives on how they get story ideas, which topics they are most interested in writing about, and the biggest challenges they face.
A few findings of note:
(Click on each image to enlarge.)
When education journalists were asked, “Where do you turn for information when reporting?” the top answers were nearly tied between “teacher or faculty member” (89%) and “news release, news conference, or public relations professional” (88%). These responses underscore the importance of both strong internal communication and effective use of somewhat traditional media outreach strategies.
Similarly, journalists were asked, “Where do you get your story ideas?” Here again, the top answer (70%) was “news release, news conference, or public relations professional,” followed by “news coverage” (62%) and “local education leader or school district” (60%). It’s worth noting that more than half of respondents (52%) cited “social media” as a leading source for story ideas, highlighting a key benefit of posting on social media platforms – Twitter, in particular.
“What is the most undercovered issue in education?” The top response of “Inequality” earned twice as many responses (26%) as the next-highest response, “Budget and Funding” (13%). This finding indicates potentially untapped opportunities to pitch stories about closing opportunity and achievement gaps in schools.
Finally, something for educators in particular to consider: The survey asked education journalists to identify the leading problems they face in the profession. The top four answers pertain to time constraints, newsroom dynamics, and the changing pressures on media outlets. But the next three most frequent answers highlight opportunities for stronger relationships with educators: “I find it difficult to get in-person access to schools and campuses” (33%); “Educational leaders are uncooperative or hostile to me” (23%); and “I find myself covering or supervising coverage of education-related topics I don’t fully understand” (20%).
See also a guest opinion in USA Today by Caroline Hendrie, executive director of EWA, about the future of the education beat.