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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

October 24, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Education Lab Q&A

Education Lab, a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network, will explore promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K-12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.

The yearlong project is funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

This document addresses questions that may emerge about the project and its funding.

Q. Why has The Seattle Times sought foundation funding for journalism?

A. As we all know, the business model for newspapers is shifting. Advertising revenue has declined in recent years. At the same time, because of the public-service role fulfilled by newspapers, some foundations have become interested in supporting high-quality journalism, directing funding to specific areas of coverage, such as international or health reporting, or to broader initiatives, such as investigative reporting.

The Seattle Times is pursuing foundation funding to support public-service reporting projects that are particularly costly or resource intensive. We are pursuing funding only for projects that already fit what we consider our core coverage mission.

Foundation funding is not new for The Seattle Times. We have accepted foundation funding for several projects during the past four years. A grant from the Pew Foundation supported “Front Porch Forum,” an innovative project that encouraged citizen participation on key civic issues, as far back as 1994.

Q. Do other news organizations seek and accept foundation funding?

A. Yes. Foundation grants have long supported the programming at National Public Radio, PBS and other nonprofit journalism organizations. In recent years, foundations have also supported work done at the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and NBC News, among others.

Q. How much are the grants for?

A. The project has received $530,000 in foundation funding — $450,000 from the Gates Foundation and $80,000 from the Knight Foundation, a foundation that supports journalism excellence and media innovation.

The Seattle Times will receive $426,000 during an 18-month period. The bulk of its funding will pay for the salaries of two education reporters, allowing us to expand our education team; an editor and photographer primarily dedicated to the project; and a newly hired community-engagement editor. The funds will also be used for community outreach and public forums, creation of a blog and design and data work.

Q. Do the foundations have any control over what is reported?

A. The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support. For example, in the past two years the Seattle International Foundation has provided roughly $40,000 in funding to The Times for international reporting on global poverty issues. The foundation had no role in deciding which stories we choose to pursue or how we report those stories. It also does not review stories before publication.

Q. Does The Times have outside funding for other projects?

A. The Times currently has four other grants to support various initiatives:

— A Kaiser Health News grant allows The Times to expand its coverage of implementation of the federal Affordable Health Care Act. Much of the reporting is focused on providing consumers a better understanding of how the law works and how it will affect them.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting provided support to help produce “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn,” a multimedia series about how ocean acidification is disrupting marine life. The grant paid for international travel.

The Seattle International Foundation has provided an ongoing grant during the past three years to support international reporting on global poverty and development issues, as well as a weekly column looking at global issues through a Seattle lens.

The O’Brien Fellowship, a grant from Marquette University in Wisconsin, allows a Seattle Times reporter to spend an academic year on campus working on a public-service-journalism project and assist in developing a new model for journalism education. The project is an in-depth look at efforts to curb carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.

Q. Are there any foundations you would not accept funding from?

A. We do not have a list of foundations with which we would not work. Instead, we analyze each opportunity on its merits, probing for potential conflicts and determining whether the opportunity fits our journalistic mission. When we accept funding, we pledge to be transparent with readers about the source of the money and promise always to value the trust readers place in us above any outside financing opportunities. Our policies are as follows:

● We would not accept funding from a foundation that would want any kind of editorial input or control on what we report.

● We would not accept funding for an area of coverage that we believe is not a good fit for our readers.

● We would not accept funding from a foundation that was affiliated with a political party or that was philosophically aligned with a partisan political agenda.

Q. Does the Gates Foundation or Knight Foundation have direct input into the coverage?

A. Beyond agreeing to fund the project, the foundations have not asked for and will not have any input into the reporting of stories or into any of the content that will emerge from the project. The foundations will not be aware of specific stories we are working on or review them before publication.

Q. Will the fact that the Gates Foundation does so much work in the education arena affect how The Seattle Times covers these issues?

A. No, there will be no direct relationship between the foundation’s education advocacy and the reporting for Education Lab. It is possible the project will analyze and report on efforts that the Gates Foundation supports and those it does not. In determining the focus of the reporting in the project, the support of the Gates Foundation, or lack thereof, will play no role. Throughout the duration of the project, we will be transparent about funding for Education Lab.

Q. Why did the Gates Foundation decide to fund this project?

A. The foundation has funded a number of media projects from organizations including NPR, The Guardian newspaper, NBC News, Public Radio International (PRI), TEDx and Univision. The foundation says its primary goal for this type of funding is to support the media’s ability to better inform, engage and, at times, inspire citizens to participate in some of today’s greatest challenges. For this project, the foundation has a strong desire to test and learn whether this solutions-oriented approach would help promote deeper engagement on a complex topic like education.

Q. What is “solutions journalism”? Does The Seattle Times now intend to tell me in the news pages what the solutions to complex education challenges are?

A. Solutions journalism is critical and clear-eyed reporting that investigates and explains credible responses to social problems.

It looks at examples where people are working toward solutions, focusing not just on what may be working, but — based on hard evidence — how and why it appears to be working or, alternatively, why it may be stumbling. It delves deep into the how-to’s of problem-solving, often structuring stories as puzzles or mysteries that investigate questions like: What models are having success reducing the dropout rate? How confident can we be that they are producing the results they claim? And, at the nuts- and-bolts level, how do they actually work?

When done well, the stories provide valuable insights about how communities may better tackle important problems. As such, solutions journalism can provide a foundation for productive, forward-looking community conversation about vital social issues.

Solutions journalism is not about advocating for or proposing particular models, organizations or ideas. The Times will not recommend one education solution or another on its news pages; its role is to critically examine potential solutions that could provide powerful insights that change the way people consider our region’s education challenges.

Q. What is the Solutions Journalism Network?

A. The Solutions Journalism Network is a new nonprofit organization, formed by a team of experienced reporters and editors, that works to encourage and spread the practice of solutions journalism: rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. Through newsroom partnerships, funds that support individual reporting projects, curriculum development, and collaborations with journalism schools, it is building a network of journalists who have the ability and motivation to practice high quality reporting that spotlights solutions, and who have the influence to advance a culture shift in reporting.

The Solutions Journalism Network brings a distinctive perspective to The Times newsroom. Its staff will be working with Times reporters and editors as we implement the public-education series, and as we pursue strategies to best engage citizens in this project.

Q. Will this project replace The Seattle Times normal education reporting?

A. No. The project will enhance our reporting beyond what we would otherwise be able to do with existing resources and attempt some new ways of engaging audiences as we do so.

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