Blog: The Educated Reporter

The TFA of journalism.

One day not long ago, I met up, separately, with reporters from two very different publications that cover the same city school system. One is a big, traditional newspaper, and the other is a small, young website. Competition is something all journalists are familiar with and to some extent thrive on, but talking to these two types of reporters, new issues revealed themselves.

Let’s call the paper Brand X and the website Brand Y. Brand X and Brand Y both run blogs and longer pieces, but items that may be deemed newsworthy for Y often don’t make the cut for X. The education reporters at X are choosier about what they publish and write at greater length, while Y demands a faster, constant stream of news. Ideally, both models can flourish. But here’s the tricky thing: If you have a news tip, would you go to X, which might address it more deeply, or Y, which is far likelier to address it at all? If you are operating in a school news environment that is localized, balkanized and all about spreading your word quickly to a targeted, hyper-interested audience, my guess is that you will go to Y.

For Brand X to compete for that level of connection, in addition to modifying its mission it would have to speed the hell up and produce constantly. What does that look like at Brand Y? Its four staffers work pretty much all the time. I don’t think any of them have children, they are young, and I cannot imagine they will be able to do this forever.

Sound familiar? Now, I am not a Teach for America hater. If I knew about it when I graduated college, I definitely would have applied (even though my parents once told me they didn’t pay for a Wesleyan education so I could be a teacher). But I disagree with those who say it wouldn’t matter if schools were entirely staffed by young teachers who turned over every two years, as long as they were smart and good. Because while it may not matter for the students—and that is still an open question—I don’t think the profession of teaching should be the sole domain of people who are willing to work 70 hours a week. Journalism either.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this one plays out.