Education journalists have the critically important task of
informing the public about education at the local, state, and
national levels. But little is known about this sector of the
news media. What does this workforce look like? Do education
journalists believe their work matters? Are they satisfied in
their jobs? What challenges does the field face to better
informing public dialogue on education?
The Education Writers Association (EWA) teamed up with the
Education Week Research Center to answer these and other
questions in a first-of-its-kind online national survey and
follow-up interviews. The result is this report, State of the
Education Beat 2016.
The report offers comprehensive new data that provides the field
with important baseline information. The findings can be used to
inform decisions about resources devoted to the education beat,
and for assessments by media outlets of how they cover – or do
not cover – education.
State of the Education Beat also tells a compelling story, and a
hopeful one. Two-thirds of respondents say education journalism
is going in the right direction at their news outlets. A majority
hold that view of the field as a whole. The report challenges the
widely accepted narrative that education is a steppingstone beat
with negligible prestige.
The survey’s more than 400 respondents revealed that the typical
education journalist is 36 years old with 11 years of experience.
The report further shows how education journalists differ from
journalists overall. Seventy-one percent of education journalists
are female, compared with 38 percent of journalists as a whole.
Also, one-in-five education journalists is nonwhite, compared
with 9 percent for the profession at large.
State of the Education Beat indicates that 79 percent of
education journalists are very or fairly satisfied with their
jobs. They are committed to their beats and believe deeply that
their reporting is making a difference in their communities, the
data and interview responses show. Here’s how one journalist put
it: “I wrote this big story that got picked up across the state.
Now it’s like one of the most heated discussions in the state.
Nobody knew about it until I wrote about it.”
But this is not to say education journalism is without challenges
– some of them significant and reflective of the long-term health
of the field and public access to high-quality education
coverage. Two messages in particular stand out: Education
journalists want more time for in-depth coverage and colleagues
with more education expertise.
Many also are concerned that pressure to generate web traffic can
put popularity above substance in editorial decision-making. “I
could spend all week working on something that I thought was
really great or really earth-shattering and the next week maybe
my traffic has risen by a tenth of a percent. It’s kind of
deflating,” said one reporter.
Key Highlights From the Report
- Education journalism is a field with a future. Education
journalists see the beat as a capstone, not a steppingstone: 79
percent of survey respondents say education is a career path they
are committed to pursuing. Millennial education journalists have
substantially higher confidence levels, a finding that bodes well
for the future of the field.
- Journalists believe their work has a positive impact on
education. One of the most dramatic — and heartening — findings
to emerge from the State of the Education Beat study is that 95
percent of all education journalists feel their work is making a
- No shortage of challenges. Sixty-five percent of respondents
say responsibility for covering (or supervising coverage of) too
many aspects of education leaves them little time for in-depth
education journalism. And one-third find it difficult to get
in-person access to schools and college campuses.
- Education journalists have high levels of confidence in their
field. State of the Education Beat introduces the Education
Journalism Confidence Index, which uses 13 survey questions to
assess respondents’ overall perceptions of their field.
Seventy-six percent express confidence in their sector. Also, 67
percent say education journalism at their own news outlet is
going in the right direction.
- Inequality is undercovered; testing and budgets and finance
will be the top stories. Asked to name the most under-covered
issue in education, inequality stood out. The most commonly cited
“top stories” for the 2016-17 school year are testing and budgets
- Television gets low marks from peers for coverage of
education. If the Confidence Index has an outlier, it is the
perception of TV news. Just 5 percent of study participants
express confidence in TV education news, compared with 72 percent
- Public relations efforts are an important part of education
coverage. News releases, news conferences, or public relations
professionals are the top sources of story ideas for education
journalists who took the survey.
- Teachers and faculty members are key sources. Asked to
identify sources they turned to in the last month to inform
coverage, journalists report a virtual tie for first place
between teachers/faculty members (89 percent) and news releases,
news conferences, and PR professionals (88 percent). Other top
sources? News coverage, local educational leaders/school
districts, and school/campus visits.
- Is the education beat shrinking? Yes and no. Although 32
percent of respondents say their education news staffs had
declined over the past two years, 27 percent report growth and 41
percent say the size didn’t change. However, education-focused
news outlets are more likely to indicate growth than
- The salary gap. As with the overall journalism workforce, a
wage gap exists for education journalists by gender. Full-time
male education journalists make about $3,000 a year more than
their female counterparts.