I had the pleasure of attending the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar today at Boston University. Here are a few thoughts and learnings from this wonderful day, but two things are clear: despite being titled The Quest for Quality and Equity, (1) there are quality journalists providing quality education press coverage, and (2) our nation and the media coverage on education is far from equitable.
Attendees were serious, quality journalists from across the country and represented the entire media spectrum. They were there to learn from each other, share insights (and the occasional inside joke), and help advance the imperative of strong media coverage of education. It was a privilege to hear from and meet so many of them. And, their dedication is inspirational.
These reporters are tackling serious topics. Scott Jaschik’s list of the Top 10 Higher Ed Stories that journalists should cover this year drew a full house, as he shared his insight into what’s sure to make news over the next year. From universities being out of touch with local political views, to ethnic tensions and anti-Semitism on campus, to the impact Election 2016 might have (Trump U, anyone?) – these are issues that have the potential to impact colleges and universities from coast to coast. The gap between the haves and have-nots exists between students, departments, and schools themselves, with far-reaching social consequences.
Journalism’s “to do list” is long and complex. Education is both the most local of issues and a national one at the same time. While we are well past the debate about ketchup being a vegetable, education journalists are called upon to write about the mundane, the obscure, the over-reported, the misunderstood, and the increasingly complex world of education – all with sensitivity and vision. They must also provide content of interest and relevance to their readers/viewers/listeners – and poor people don’t buy newspapers, often skewing the content away from the “difficult” education coverage.
There are surprises around every corner in education. Although the prevailing stereotype of a higher ed student has progressed beyond those in Animal House, most of us still think of college students that reflect our own privileged backgrounds. The face of poverty on campus is real and growing. The gap between affluent and poor students continues to expand – but the struggles facing poor students rarely make news. Did you know that 20% of community college students are food-insecure and 39% are housing-insecure? I didn’t either.
The panel in the Hunger on Campus session painted one bleak picture after another of the hurdles facing poor students. Food pantries are popping up on campuses across the country. Students who received free lunch throughout their K-12 studies often receive no food assistance when they go to college. Statistically, well-off students will become well-off adults. Since education can break the cycle of poverty and have an impact for generations, we can’t afford to let students without resources fail to succeed. We owe them more than that.
Despite the financial pressures facing journalism and the media, there are still people who dedicate their lives to reporting careers. One big-city journalist told me that she’s encouraging her daughter to study PR, since that field offers greater job growth than journalism. But, it was inescapable that young people continue to pursue the noble field of journalism – and we all benefit as a result.
The Education Writers Association has put together a wonderful seminar that serves its members and community supporters well. Given the importance of education, this is an organization that I’m proud to support and one event that I look forward to attending.
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