Lack of Education Reporters Hurts Public Engagement in Ed. Policy [Blog]

This evening, Hamiltonians are speaking in front of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board as their East Hamilton community schools face closures – Parkdale, Rosedale, Roxborough Park, and Woodward are all on the chopping block.

Parents and Residents of East Hamilton Gather at City Hall on May 5, 2014 to speak to proposed school closures in their communities. Parents and Residents of East Hamilton Gather at City Hall on May 5, 2014 to speak to proposed school closures in their communities.

As the speakers address the Trustees, they provide moving and emotional reasons for not closing their community school – especially the speakers from Rosedale neighbourhood. There are many good reasons (and no downside) to have community schools, this is well known.

The decision making process the Trustees must follow is the provincial funding formula and it’s not part of the discussion we are having.

Not Talking Provincial When We Should

Why isn’t the discussion about the provincial policies that are forcing these closures, why is the public not addressing their concerns to candidates in the provincial election? Why isn’t this the main election issue?

These are questions I ask tonight, and I look for the answers in journalism. I believe journalism can make our society better, and that it is journalism’s responsibility to provide the knowledge for our fellow citizens to self-govern and be fully engaged in a vibrant democracy.

The Decrease in Journalism Hurts Society

The Education Beat is a rare one in Canada. The national flagships – The Toronto Star and Globe and Mail – have dedicated full-time education reporters. Some other major dailies have dedicated full-time education reporters – The Winnipeg Free Press’ Nick Martin is a great example. Former Vancouver Sun reporter Janet Steffenhagen – who is now independent – is another must-read.

However, for most papers and online news outlets, education is a part-time gig or non-dedicated beat.

It’s not “sexy” and doesn’t often “bleed to lead” – as journalistic outlets have been forced to trim staff and for-profit outlets are measured by clicks-per-story.

In-depth policy pieces are timing-consuming – making them costly – and don’t generate anywhere near the clicks that crime-of-the-hour or faux-outrage-of-the-day stories produce.

Crime-of-the-hour stories are easy and near-no-cost, just recycle the police press release and watch the traffic arrive. The most ridiculous, the better. Faux outrage is even easier, find some university student making a 17-year-old’s mistake, add a bit of emotional language, and you’ve seeded a viral hit. (I wrote my share of those)

With limited resources – and the risk of fewer resources if clicks aren’t generated between ads – the timing-consuming public policy pieces lose. I left a media outlet in part because of the pressure to produce more content with less context to generate clicks.

The drama of school closures is more click generating than covering the policies that create the drama, it’s a vicious cycle for journalism.

As we lose journalists, we lose our ability to explain what’s happen to enable our fellow citizens to self-govern, as we lose our ability to self-govern, the readership for informative policy journalism decreases. Rinse-and-repeat.

The Result of Less Journalism

The result is tonight, where we gathered in City Hall to discuss how we’re being impacted by provincial policy, but where we don’t discuss the merits of that policy – just how we’re implementing it in Hamilton.

For my part, I want to make education the first beat that is covered when I succeed in building my journalism start-up and have the revenue to make the first hire.

Education is too important to not cover.


This blog post is my first in an attempt to blog every weekday in May. My effort is inspired by a recent post by Mathew Ingram “I miss the old blogosphere — we’ve gained a lot, but we’ve also lost something” and my own desire to write more often. I miss the days where I wrote often and engaged readers with intelligent discussions. I want to bring that back. Thus far, I’ve missed two days May 1st and 2nd.

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