Higher Ed Journalism: New Realities: How Media Coverage Has Evolved-And How Campus Administrators Should Respond

Article excerpt

ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO, all of the higher education media were published weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Many, such as University Business, Change, Education Week, and various newsletters and magazines published by higher education associations and consulting firms, still are available on a periodic basis in printed form.

Inside Higher Education, the daily online higher education newsletter, however, fundamentally changed the nature of higher education media through the immediacy of its coverage, as well as the broad range of subjects that engage faculty respondents. The Chronicle of Higher Education soon increased its own presence online, and readers can now view the publication's twice-daily news reports and continuously updated late-breaking news on its website.

It is important to recall that for many years The Chronicle dominated how and what officials of higher education organizations and deans, vice presidents, presidents, and faculty members in colleges and universities learned about new developments in higher education. Only since 2004, when Inside Higher Education launched its website and daily e-mail news summaries, has a degree of competition been introduced into what gets reported, who reports it first, and what editorial stance is taken.

One positive result of this rivalry is that readers now have a choice of news outlets. A second is that both of the daily news outlets now cover programs and events that received little or no coverage in years past, such as the substance of presentations at higher education conferences. Still another good result is that readers can find higher education news almost the moment it occurs.

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A more troubling development in the higher education press is the move from solely reporting the news ,to occasionally creating the news that's reported. For example, The Chronicle now organizes a conference, the Chronicle Executive Leadership Forum. For several days in early June of this year, the publication was dominated by accounts from its own conference, whose sessions duplicated those offered by the consortia of colleges and higher ed associations that have for years served administrators in just these collective ways.

Growing public skepticism about higher education, reported widely in the media, has changed the journalistic styles of The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, University Business, USA Today, and other mainstream media. When legislators or federal officials know they can score easy points with constituents by issuing broadsides on matters of higher education policy, these politicians do half of the journalists' work for them. The education press has been criticized for not being very interested in publicizing serious and significant achievements of individual institutions, consortia, or whole sectors of higher education unless these achievements reverberate in larger policy circles.

For example, Harvard started giving low-income students no-loan financial aid packages several years ago, a development that should have been treated then as an important news story, but only when Harvard sweetened packages for middle-class students this year, in apparent efforts to mollify Sen. …