Nonprofit education news coverage is coming to Indiana, and that’s something to welcome. Scott Elliott has left the Indianapolis Star to become editor of Chalkbeat Indiana, an online news outlet that will cover schools and education policy.
Chalkbeat is an initiative of the Education News Network, which formed early this year in a merger of two respected education news organizations, Gotham Schools in New York and Ed News Colorado. The network is also starting an education news site in Tennessee.
Plans call for the Indiana site to launch in early 2014 with a four-person staff. And it will have plenty to cover: the growth of Indiana’s voucher and charter-schools programs, tension between Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education, the implementation of performance-based teacher evaluations and the political fight over Common Core – not to mention the great stories that can be found in Indiana schools every day.
“We’re going to cover educational change with a focus on the Indianapolis Public School District and other schools across the city,” Elliott tells edu-blogger Alexander Russo. “At the state policy level, we’ll cover the state board of education, the education department and the legislature. There will be a focus on key high impact issues.”
The School Matters blog started out of frustration over the lack of education news reporting, especially at the level of state policy and politics. Now we’ve got NPR’s State Impact Indiana providing solid coverage, soon to be joined by Chalkbeat Indiana.
While newspapers and other traditional news sources may be struggling, the nonprofit model is offering interesting alternatives. The Hechinger Report, launched in 2010, covers national education stories. Catalyst Chicago has covered urban education since 1990.
The Walton foundation is up front about how it spends its education money – to support charter schools and to shape public policy to favor school choice, including vouchers. It put $158 million into the cause in 2012, including $3 million for charter schools and “reform” advocates in Indiana.
Responding to a question about the potential influence of Walton money, Education News Network co-founder Elizabeth Green writes that the network won’t accept funding with strings attached.
Ultimately, our view is that the best defense is to build an organization that mitigates against indirect influence by design. A few of the ways we do that:
– work to make our revenue streams as diverse as possible (multiple diverse foundation supporters, multiple diverse individual donors, sponsorships, jobs board revenue);
– create a firewall between our editorial and business teams, so that no reporter or editor will ever be in the position of worrying about a particular grant or sponsor;
– build a reader advisory board to hold us accountable.
Those are good and important steps – really, they’re what you’d hope to see from a traditional news organization or a grant-dependent nonprofit like NPR. Newspapers are largely funded by advertisers, after all; and with regard to providing thorough and independent news coverage, that’s the least of their problems.
Education News Network could go a step further by vowing to fully disclose its major funding sources in real time. Ultimately, though, readers will judge the site on its performance. If the reporting and writing are deep, smart and fair, we’ll keep reading.