Educating the press: Columbia’s Teachers College seeks to improve education coverage

Too often reporters are thrown onto the education beat with little more preparation than their own school experience. Saying it can help make sense of a bewildering beat, the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, has been founded to offer a wide range of services to working reporters, editors and broadcast producers at Teachers College at Columbia University.

 

The institute, named in honor of Fred Hechinger, a former education editor and editorial board member of The New York Times who died last fall, will bring together journalists, as well as educators, in a forum, designed to promote understanding, said Gene Maeroff, director of the institute. The institute will be supported, in part, by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation and by the Teachers College Trustees.

 

Maeroff, himself a former Times national education correspondent and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said, “The institute seemed like the natural way to honor him [Hechinger] and the vision he had of trying to make the coverage of education in the media as good as it could possibly be.”

 

Getting Up to Speed

 

Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, agreed that the institute should be named for Hechinger, “because he understood that reporters and producers need help in understanding the complex and changing issues of education…and he was one of the most influential voices in education journalism in the past half century.”

 

Maeroff said the existence of the institute, does not imply that there is not a lot of able coverage of education. But, he says, there are several problems that “sometimes plague us. For example, People who are assigned to cover education at all kinds of publications and broadcast outlets don’t necessarily have any background in education … they bring a sort of lack of knowledge and history to the coverage that they do. They don’t always know the issues and what else has happened before, what it. is they are covering.”

 

Another issue of concern is turnover. “When you have the kind of turnover that you do, people need help to get up: to speed with the issues and the players. What we plan is an annual seminar for people who are new to the education beat,” Maeroff said.

Seminars Planned

 

The institute will also allow media people to work with educators and other constituencies, such such as policymakers and lawmakers. The goal is to help them understand the needs of the media and how to work more collaboratively. Many of the details of the seminars have not yet been determined, but they are planned to be held four or five times a year for about 25 journalists each. Participants will be selected on a first-come basis, and the cost will be subsidized.

 

Some of the sessions may be held collaboratively with organizations such as the Education Writers Association (EWA), Maeroff said. “We might also participate in other organization meetings by being on panels or in sessions that deal with issues we are concerned with. We also expect to do a limited amount of publishing.”

 

Lisa Walker, EWA executive director, said her organization will act as a consultant in sponsoring seminars for new reporters. “We’ll probably also be relied on as an outreach for reporters through our membership. And because of our contacts, we also have a grasp of what kinds of issues that are coming up locally, as opposed to nationally.”

 

Walker said that some journalists are concerned about having a teachers’ college take the lead in running the institute. “They’re an education organization . . . . They have concerns and things that they want to get out to the press. But it’s not as big a problem as if you were talking about collaborating with an education advocacy organization,” she said. “Having the institute at Teachers College is appropriate in that it gives an academic perspective and allow us to bring together the two views,” she added.

 

Jonnet Abeles, assistant dean at Columbia School of Journalism, said that “we are delighted that a sister school is exploring the impact of the media and education and we expect to participate in the activities.”

 

Maeroff said he doesn’t see any problems in maintaining the objectivity of the institute. “I spent a lot of my career working as a journalist and am very sensitive to the integrity of the media.”

 

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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