Last week, at the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference, I had the pleasure of hosting Education and the Media: Pointing Toward the Positive. I invited anchors and reporters from all of Chicago’s big news networks- NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX. It was an eye-opening event for myself and others, and offered a wide glimpse into how education news gets made, or… doesn’t.
My vision for the talk was to understand more clearly how education news is treated by the big networks. We all know where education exists in traditional media outlets- it doesn’t exist. Or it’s relegated to the bottom of the news pile, pushed off as a “human interest” story, or shuffled onto the weekend news.
Rob Elgas, mid-day anchor from NBC5 News, put it pretty bluntly. He said that they are beholden to a corporate entity, and that education news is at the “mercy of the next tornado.” Rob also stated that they are extremely reactive and sometimes drop everything to get the lastest scoop.
What’s the Story of Education?
Back in September, I was very encouraged by NBC’s Education Nation, which Mr. Elgas took part in, but even he was admittedly surprised that the Chicago content for Education Nation hadn’t had a post since the end of September of 2011. I was curious if there was something we could do to promote a proactive culture in the media, especially for education, rather than wait for another school shooting to give education a bad name. That idea received no fanfare.
When we started to talk about how to push education’s stature in the media, Leah Hope from ABC 7 said, “send me an email!” She re-iterated this a number of times, even offering her business card, as though the news media depends on us to feed their machine, rather than proactively gathering their own stories. I again brought up the idea of changing the media culture to a more proactive one, only to have it fall on silent ears.
Big News Media needs a disruption. Twitter is certainly a start. We started EdReach because we know there was a deficiency in the way that the news of education is reported. We wanted to share the positive stories of education, and you can’t count on the big media outlets to cover your story- or to even get the story right. But, I will admit that even we may not be doing this right either.
The problem with Education in the Media- the problem with Edutopia, EdWeek, the NYtimes, WaPo, and countless others- is that they still haven’t figured out what the story is for education. We’re still- everybody – is still treating education as a human interest story. As long as we are doing that- Education will never get traction in the mainstream. That is why I was admittedly encouraged by Education Nation: NBC actually did a decent job of re-branding education in the media, something that has never been done before, on this type of scale. The problem is, once school started- they dropped the ball! As if there was a school news cycle that would wake up again once state testing and budget fights began. Take a look at Education Nation’s traffic.
That’s terrible. The big news sites aren’t listening to the Web. They were only interested insofar as their viewership for September, when people might be “tuning in.” But content is content, and the Web gives it a life after the initial posting, something big news networks don’t seem to think about. Some of our content on EdReach has been getting traffic for an entire year (we just turned one).
The Stigma of Education
Rob Elgas also offered one more insight that I thought was quite unique. Education- the term- has a stigma. Branding something “education” in the mainstream gives it a certain flavor. You know what you’re going to be served when you look for education news: teacher arrests, stories about budgets, and stories about teacher unions. That is the “reactive” story.
Education needs to be re-branded, and it needs to be re-categorized. The “cool” education news is about how the things are being disrupted. The iPad- that’s a cool education story. Khan Academy- whether you like it or not- is a cool story because it’s disruptive to the old way of doing things. Ebooks, the fall of print media, Apple, Google- all of these stories are education stories. Education news is about innovation.
I want education to be a consumable. It should have its own Disney Store, and everyone should want to get inside. I think Discovery Education comes close to this- but the problem with Discovery is that they treat content as “education-al”. Education is an institution, but education-al content is passive, and has its own stigma involved. It “tries” to teach you. We all know that good content doesn’t have to try- it just teaches us. That’s what TED does.
Education should be like Froot Loops- just something you eat every morning because that’s what you do. Like Wonder Bread or Soda Pop. We need to be pop culture. I eat TED Talks for breakfast, and as an educator, I want my students to have that love for learning that I do. I don’t want them waking up to news about a school shooting, and somehow think that reflects poorly on me or education, because it doesn’t. It reflects on crime and the court system.
All in all, I still have a lot of respect for the people who joined me last week. They offered us a window into a medium that is almost just as stagnant as education is at changing. There have been some moments of innovation, and one can only hope that continues. The people who change that model will be people who have no overhead, and aren’t beholden to General Electric.
So- what’s the solution to Education in the media? Own your own education message. Create your own Website. Become a contributor to EdReach. Share an #EduWin at www.whatisyoureduwin.com. Put out the positive message about education. Let’s make education as popular as Star Wars.
Just don’t call it education.
Image Credits: Elemenous on Flickr