Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Does journalism's decline help education?

At the evening ceremony at the Washington Post last week for winners of the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards, I was introduced to a short, lively woman whose name, Colette Fraley, seemed familiar. The Arlington County school system had picked her as its recipient of the Post-sponsored trophy and $3,000 check, but that was not the first money she had ever earned at my newspaper.

This social studies teacher, declared to be a "superwoman" by the Wakefield High School principal, was one of the night copy editors who used to save me from countless errors when I was the Post's west coast reporter in the 1980s.

Post Co. chairman Donald E. Graham said Fraley was the first former Post employee ever to win an Agnes Meyer award, named after his grandmother. When Fraley switched to teaching, people asked her if she were crazy. She replied she saw several similarities between the two occupations, but teaching was better "because you have a chance to kindle a flame for learning--and an opportunity to shape the future."

Amen. I am not happy about the loss of good people at the Post and other journalistic enterprises in the massive reorganization of the news business, but if schools are getting some talented wordsmiths that way, it may be a net plus.

My wife, who used to be a senior producer at ABC News, sent me a news item announcing that one of her former colleagues, network vice president Mimi Gurbst, had enrolled at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education to learn how to turn her organizational and career-counseling skills into a new career as a high school guidance counselor.

I run frequently into former journalists making this change. Norman Atkins, founder of the Uncommon Schools charter network, said journalism gave him a box seat in the stadium of culture, politics and business, but "I wanted to get onto the field myself and make a difference in the lives of children and families in need." The Post's former Virginia education editor, Paul Bernstein, guided me through my first years of midlife return to the Metro staff, and now is taking his superb literary and analytical skills into high school teaching.

We could use more good journalists, but good teachers are more important to the country's future. I would have difficulty mastering the classroom skills that engage students, but my former editor Fraley has triumphed in making that transition. "Her AP U.S. History course has gone from one classroomful to three, and pass rates have increased dramatically," Graham said in presenting the award.

Change is coming fast to our society and our work places. Often we see that as bad. But funnelling into the classroom more people with both professional expertise and a knack for dealing with kids may turn out to be a very good thing.

Read Jay's blog every day at

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page,

By Jay Mathews  | May 18, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Colette Fraley, Journalists become teachers, Mimi Gurbst, Norman Adkins, Paul Bernstein, adding wordsmiths to the classroom  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Does denying dreams help kids learn?
Next: When looking at colleges, study their extra-curriculars


And do you know the elements of journalism?

According to The Elements of Journalism, a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, there are nine elements of journalism . In order for a journalist to fulfill their duty of providing the people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. They must follow these guidelines:
Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
Its essence is discipline of verification.
Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.
It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Its the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

In the April 2007 edition of the book, they added the last element, the rights and responsibilities of citizens to make it a total of ten elements of journalism.
And here is the answer - some parts help it and some - do not.
It's really interesting topic and I'll write a paper on it by probably I'll just buy diisertation

Posted by: peterrossy | May 18, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

for peterrossy---how interesting. Thank you.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 18, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Teachers are extremely important in our society but so are journalists. While I agree that it is a plus for education when journalists become educators, there is a negative side to the downsizing of newspapers:

In the "old days" there seemed to be a lot of investigative reporting (think Woodward and Bernstein) which contributed greatly to the strength of our democracy. However, now cash-strapped newspapers don't seem to be encouraging that sort of thing. Instead, many journalists seem to be reading and rewriting one another's articles. For example, take the many articles on educational "reform." More than a few of them seem to be a variation of the same article. Teachers are often not even interviewed for the story and the statistics offered by district office personnel are often accepted without question. A good example is the testing situation. It took journalists a long time to realize that many of these test results are invalid due to "gaming" or outright cheating. Also, because of financial problems, I think many newspapers don't dare alienate their business partners (as in Kaplan testing). So in this sense I think journalists' problems have hindered genuine educational reform.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 18, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

No wonder there is so much teacher bashing and shoddy journalism regarding education. You want the jobs. I suspected it all along. Thanks for the verification. Shame on you.

Posted by: Care1 | May 18, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Teaching takes a lot of skill, and not exactly the same skills that journalists have. Some journalists are probably great teachers, but we need journalists just as much as we need teachers. A journalist can inform/influence many more people than a classroom teacher can.

Teachers have to be really patient and be able to control large groups of children/teenagers while getting them all to learn something they don't necessarily want to learn. Sure some journalists can do that, but generally, do they all like kids enough to be able to teach for 8 hours and go home to plan for another day?

I too have noticed that many articles about teaching don't have any quotes or information from actual teachers and usually not from principals either.

Why are teachers rarely quoted? Why have I not read one article in recent history with a quote from a classroom teacher? Am I just imagining this?

Posted by: celestun100 | May 18, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

At least teaching has more value to society than the other frequent career change for ex-journalists of my acquaintance (PR/marketing for corporations).

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 19, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Wow, good to hear your wife had a good working relationship with Mimi Gurbst. One the threads running around the 'net right now is this one:

Containing hundreds of comments from former co-workers relieved to be free of Mimi Gurbst and the Tragic Kingdom

Posted by: dkonlinecommerce | May 22, 2010 2:01 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company