As attention shifts to schools, local newsrooms launch education reporting labs

Local education journalists have had no shortage of news over the past few years.

First, there was the pandemic, which closed schools and forced students, teachers and parents to adapt to virtual learning. Then came battles of disinformation on everything from critical race theory to the class discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Everyone recognizes that the systems we’ve tried for a long time in schools aren’t working, and people are thinking about how to reinvent things post-pandemic,” said editor Ruth Serven. Smith. “It’s the perfect time to study and try new things.”

Among the people doing this work are journalists in “education labs” across the country. These labs vary in format, but most include a small group of journalists and editors who focus on identifying solutions to educational challenges in their communities. They are supported by grants although they are located in local for-profit newsrooms.

The Seattle Times was the first to launch a education laboratory in 2013. Since then, The bee of Fresno (California), The Dallas Morning News, and The Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina) have all created their own labs, many of which are inspired by The Times.

“Education is at the heart of communities,” said Eva-Marie Ayala, editor of the Dallas Morning News Education Lab. “Education is at the heart of your neighborhoods. It seeps into your businesses, into your labor needs. It affects all facets of a community.

Some newspapers maintain higher education to reporters outside of the lab who focus on breaking news and daily coverage. Meanwhile, philanthropic funding allows education labs to dedicate resources to entrepreneurial and investigative projects. Post and Courier Education Lab editor Hillary Flynn pointed out that her lab’s nonprofit funding also allows them to publish articles outside of the journal’s paywall.

At, the Education Lab has become a veritable laboratory, where reporters experiment with different ways of delivering information to readers. In addition to traditional stories, journalists there have created polls, hosted live events, put together a newsletter, and written guides for parents.

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“It happens to be a laboratory for education,” Serven Smith said, “but it’s very intentional to try to do types of journalism and coverage that are experimenting and can benefit the rest of the room. writing.”

There is a lot of interest in funding education reporting, as evidenced by the rise of non-profit online outlets dedicated to the subject, including The 74, The Hechinger Report and Chalkbeat. The Hechinger report is part of a collaboration that includes the five local education labs and the Christian Science Monitor. Each week, the editors meet to discuss possible joint projects.

The editors of the five local newspapers reported finding success with the education lab model. Some have tried to replicate the format in other areas of their newsroom. The Seattle Times, for example, has now homeless project and Traffic Lab, both of which are grant-funded initiatives. They also recently set up a mental health team.

Katherine Long, editor of the Times Education Lab, said topics that have potential for solutions are particularly suited to the model.

“Readers really enjoy reading about the solutions. They don’t like to open their newspaper or open their website every day and see a series of catastrophic stories,” Long said. “So that offers hope.”

Correction: The Christian Science Monitor is part of the Education Labs collaboration, not Chalkbeat.

Poynter reporter Amaris Castillo contributed reporting.

This piece originally appeared in Local editionour newsletter dedicated to telling stories from local journalists.

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