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“NO READER LEFT BEHIND”: New Report Finds 1.4 Percent of National News Coverage Dealt with Education

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“I think it’s important to make clear that we did not, going into this study, expect that stories about education would overwhelm other subjects [such as war, the huge economic downturn, and acts of terrorism.”

During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news web sites, and radio dealt with education, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution. The report, Invisible: 1.4 Percent Coverage for Education is Not Enough, argues that this “paucity” in education coverage makes it difficult for the public to follow the issues at stake in education debates and understand how to improve school performance.

According to the report, the most common subjects in prominent news stories from January to September 2009 consisted of government (11.3 percent), economics (11.3 percent), and foreign affairs (10.3). As demonstrated in the table below, education ranked twenty-first out of the twenty-six categories featured in the report.

National Media Coverage (Percent of Newshole)1: January – September 2009

Subject

Percentage

Subject

Percentage

Government

11.3

Race/Gender/Gay Issues

1.9

Economics

11.3

Disasters/Accidents

1.9

Foreign (Non-U.S.)

10.3

Court/Legal System

1.8

U.S. Foreign Affairs

9.8

Media

1.6

Health/Medicine

9.2

Environment

1.5

Business

7.7

Science/Technology

1.5

Crime

6.2

Sports

1.5

Campaign/Elections/Politics

5.0

Education

1.4

Domestic Terrorism

3.4

Defense/Military (Domestic)

1.2

U.S. Miscellaneous

2.7

Transportation

0.8

Lifestyle

2.5

Immigration

0.5

Additional Domestic Affairs

2.4

Religion

0.4

Celebrity/Entertainment

2.1

Development/Sprawl

0.0

 

“I think it’s important to make clear that we did not, going into this study, expect that stories about education would overwhelm other subjects [such as war, the huge economic downturn, and acts of terrorism,” said E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings and long-time Washington Post columnist, at a December 2 event on the report’s findings. “Coming to this data with that very skepticism, I was still honestly surprised at how little prominent coverage there is of core education questions. However you slice these numbers, and even bearing in mind…that the analysis was based only on prominent stories, it is still remarkable that the amount of education coverage simply does not match our own rhetoric about how important education is.”

Part of the problem with education coverage is that it is “episodic, reactive, and focused on major events,” the report states. In fact, Dionne pointed out that education coverage would have been cut by about half in some cases and a third in others were it not for stories about President Obama’s speech to incoming students and coverage on the swine flu. Very little coverage was devoted to school policies, ways to improve the curriculum or learning processes, teacher quality, or other matters thought to be crucial for educational attainment.

Credit is given to “citizen-initiated journalism” such as blogs, YouTube videos, and Facebook postings, which are helpful with breaking news and commentary on current events. The report also recognizes local blogs for encouraging debate on education issues. However, it stresses that none of these outlets can replace regular, systematic, and ongoing coverage of education by news outlets.

The report offers a number of recommendations for improving the quantity and quality of education coverage. Its suggestions include: creating a greater awareness within schools that communications are important to their educational mission; increasing the efforts and roles that young people can support and play through student newspapers and social media; helping the reporting profession to be more proactive and less reactive; asking the newspaper industry and other media outlets to reconsider cut backs in education reporting.

The complete report is available at http://tinyurl.com/ygeoc9m.

1) Newshole is the space devoted to a topic as a percentage of the overall space available for content (e,g., number of words for print and online, amount of time for radio and television).

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