This is difficult coverage to provide. These types of questions don’t need to be addressed in every iteration of an unfolding story, but should at least be featured in meaningful follow-up coverage that delineates what the breaking news means for parents trying to assess Michigan’s education opportunities (and limits) in real-life terms. The Detroit News and other outlets on the beat should remember why this is public service reporting: it’s not simply because of the political gamesmanship, but because parents and children are caught in the middle of the policy debates and pet projects. They depend on quality coverage to help them make sense of it all.
Good (and sourced) data are important too. How many kids are we talking about in a particular school reform story? What communities are they coming from? As Livengood told me, sometimes the story is in the weeds—but, don’t forget to remind readers about the bigger picture, too.
Tag the ongoing coverage with a common name
Mark stories as part of, for example, a “politics of education” series. This is particularly important for occasional series, like the one the News effectively ran over the last two months, where the varied threads might otherwise be difficult for readers to weave together. The text of online articles should also include all the appropriate links to previous coverage: this was sorely missed in the News stories. Even when I was seeking out specific News pieces, they were difficult to find online. More casual readers just entering the story can use links to backtrack and better follow the story. Tags and links are an easy way to jog readers’ memory on the story, while bringing coherence to an unfolding narrative that risks spilling over the brim.
Connect coverage to strong policy analysis
School reform is a hot topic across the country, including at the federal level, and a lot of policy analysis is being generated that can help anchor news stories with significant context. Reporters, of course, should make every effort to accurately describe any organization cited in or otherwise tapped for their coverage—such as any particular focus or political lean. A recent Michigan Radio piece on poorly-performing charter schools featured analysis by a The Education Trust—Midwest, which Michigan Radio described as “a statewide nonpartisan policy, research, and advocacy organization.”
Other resources that reporters might explore include the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University (“an independent research center”); the nonpartisan Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, and the independent Center for Education Policy, which advocates for public schools. Education reporters would also do well to turn to smart policy analysts like Dana Goldstein, a left-leaning writer and fellow with the nonpartisan and nonprofit New America Foundation, to connect the news in Michigan with trends that are unfolding across the country.
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