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TC's Hechinger Institute Launches News Operation

The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, is getting into the news business. The Institute has been awarded a total of $1 million from the Lumina and William and Melinda Gates foundations to create a news hub for independent, thoughtful, analytical and scrupulously reported education news.

Highly regarded institute will cover education from pre-K to post-secondary

The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, is getting into the news business. The Institute has been awarded a total of $1 million from the Lumina and William and Melinda Gates foundations to create a news hub for independent, thoughtful, analytical and scrupulously reported education news.

Part news service, part blog, the operation, which will be called The Hechinger Report, will be an all-around collaborator with major news organizations to gather and report news focused on education from prekindergarten through postsecondary.

“There’s nobody out there doing this kind of thing in education,” said Hechinger Director Richard Lee Colvin. “News organizations today just don’t have the resources to cover education or any other topic the way they once did. Our job, as I see it, is to get beyond the surface news and explain what’s at stake in education and to do it in a public-spirited, explanatory and investigative way.”

Hechinger has emerged over the past decade as the preeminent resource for journalists on the education beat, providing seminars for new and experienced reporters and editors on everything from early childhood education to community colleges. In recent years, the Institute also has begun publishing primers on several of these topics that have been widely distributed to the working media.

The new initiative, Colvin said, is one way foundations are responding to the decline of traditional news media, particularly newspapers. Foundations seek to make a difference by, among other things, informing and shaping the thinking of leaders about issues and policy. Colvin says The Hechinger Report will help them achieve that goal by giving serious, independent attention to newsworthy education issues that they care about.

The decline of the media is well chronicled. An advertising base that has been eroding for years as readers increasingly turn to the Web for news has plunged newspapers into what some believe are their death throes. The shakeout has resulted in wrenching rounds of layoffs and in the outright shuttering of publications. Colvin, watching it all from his vantage point at Hechinger, has come to believe that there’s an opportunity amid the tumult for a credible source of objective and analytical news about the nation’s schools in what is shaping up as a major reformation era.

“We’re prepared to experiment and to take some chances and risks,” said Hechinger’s Associate Director, Liz Willen. “I think there is enormous interest in education issues from parents to policymakers. It’s a huge issue, but I do think the reporting tends to be quite shallow and quite local. There aren’t a lot of places that provide in-depth reporting. And this is an exciting time in education, especially at the federal level, so for us it’s great timing.”

The first story to be produced by Hechinger’s news shop is in collaboration with the Washington Monthly. Hechinger staff worked with a freelance writer, Jon Marcus, on an article that chronicles the University of Maryland system’s efforts to deal with budget cuts and tuition increases. The story, which will be featured on the magazine’s new online education site, represents the kind of journalism Hechinger hopes to produce: heavy on perspective, drawing out key lessons from the Maryland experience, and compellingly written.

Published Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

TC's Hechinger Institute Launches News Operation

Highly regarded institute will cover education from pre-K to post-secondary

The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, is getting into the news business. The Institute has been awarded a total of $1 million from the Lumina and William and Melinda Gates foundations to create a news hub for independent, thoughtful, analytical and scrupulously reported education news.

Part news service, part blog, the operation, which will be called The Hechinger Report, will be an all-around collaborator with major news organizations to gather and report news focused on education from prekindergarten through postsecondary.

“There’s nobody out there doing this kind of thing in education,” said Hechinger Director Richard Lee Colvin. “News organizations today just don’t have the resources to cover education or any other topic the way they once did. Our job, as I see it, is to get beyond the surface news and explain what’s at stake in education and to do it in a public-spirited, explanatory and investigative way.”

Hechinger has emerged over the past decade as the preeminent resource for journalists on the education beat, providing seminars for new and experienced reporters and editors on everything from early childhood education to community colleges. In recent years, the Institute also has begun publishing primers on several of these topics that have been widely distributed to the working media.

The new initiative, Colvin said, is one way foundations are responding to the decline of traditional news media, particularly newspapers. Foundations seek to make a difference by, among other things, informing and shaping the thinking of leaders about issues and policy. Colvin says The Hechinger Report will help them achieve that goal by giving serious, independent attention to newsworthy education issues that they care about.

The decline of the media is well chronicled. An advertising base that has been eroding for years as readers increasingly turn to the Web for news has plunged newspapers into what some believe are their death throes. The shakeout has resulted in wrenching rounds of layoffs and in the outright shuttering of publications. Colvin, watching it all from his vantage point at Hechinger, has come to believe that there’s an opportunity amid the tumult for a credible source of objective and analytical news about the nation’s schools in what is shaping up as a major reformation era.

“We’re prepared to experiment and to take some chances and risks,” said Hechinger’s Associate Director, Liz Willen. “I think there is enormous interest in education issues from parents to policymakers. It’s a huge issue, but I do think the reporting tends to be quite shallow and quite local. There aren’t a lot of places that provide in-depth reporting. And this is an exciting time in education, especially at the federal level, so for us it’s great timing.”

The first story to be produced by Hechinger’s news shop is in collaboration with the Washington Monthly. Hechinger staff worked with a freelance writer, Jon Marcus, on an article that chronicles the University of Maryland system’s efforts to deal with budget cuts and tuition increases. The story, which will be featured on the magazine’s new online education site, represents the kind of journalism Hechinger hopes to produce: heavy on perspective, drawing out key lessons from the Maryland experience, and compellingly written.

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