One privilege of specializing in the K-12 & Higher Ed market is the relationships we’ve built with a wide range of talented education journalists. The folks covering the American education system are a dedicated and impressive group.
Our PR Specialist, Ken Stoflet, recently traveled to Atlanta to attend the 2023 Education Writers Association Seminar. Over four days, he had visibility into the trends and topics that are top-of-mind with leading education writers and editors. Understanding what’s most important and noteworthy in the sector right now allows us to earn relevant and valuable coverage for our B2E clients.
We asked Ken a few questions to highlight the most impactful takeaways from his time among the best and brightest in education journalism.
Why, as a PR professional, did you choose to attend the EWA seminar?
Working in the education space, I read a lot about big education topics like staffing shortages, data privacy and so much more. However, being able to listen in-person to some of the thought leaders and well-known education journalists gave me deeper insight.
I loved meeting some of the journalists I email and interact with on a regular basis at EWA. Getting the chance to grab breakfast with a journalist gave me more insight into what really excites them, and their motivations for focusing on education. That personal connection helps us understand each other better, opening new ways to partner up and share the stories of educators.
How did spending time with education writers change your perspective on their work?
I attended one session where several prominent education journalists shared what they look for in pitches. One of the journalists (who I’ve pitched in the past) shared that on average, they receive 50+ pitches each day! While I’ve known that journalists don’t always have time to sift through all the emails they receive, hearing that really changed my perspective.
In the same session, these journalists also shared how just in the last few years, they’ve received more and more threatening emails and responses to some of their stories because someone doesn’t agree with their coverage. They shared that in the past, education was considered more “laid-back” in the journalism world compared to covering politics or breaking news. With politics and education becoming more entangled recently, education journalists are sometimes even becoming political targets.
What was the most surprising thing you learned at the seminar?
I attended an in-depth session about data privacy in schools and although I was familiar with the growing concerns around school and district data breaches and cyberattacks, I didn’t realize the sheer amount of them occurring. I got the chance to hear from an administrator at one district who talked about how a data breach forced their schools to shut down for more than a week because everything—attendance, school lunches, reading practice programs, etc.—are all connected to the schools’ networks.
The administrator emphasized that people don’t realize how integrated everything is, and to minimize the data breach everything needed to be shut down and contained. One of the journalists presenting on the topic also touched on just how much information schools and districts collect about their students, such as information about their medications, suspension reports and so much more. If in the wrong hands, that sensitive information can leak onto the dark web and criminals can use it to open credit cards or impersonate others.
What’s one piece of advice you gathered from the summit that education companies seeking press coverage should know?
Journalists want to hear from educators. In the same session where the journalist shared that they get 50+ pitches a day, they also shared that they love connecting with educators and hearing their stories. Education companies have relationships with different schools across the nation and sharing those relationships are the key to securing coverage.
Journalists want to tell stories that matter through the lens of the educators experiencing challenges and triumphs firsthand.
Which education topics are writers most engaged with right now?
Data privacy continues to be a hot topic in education. Since 2016 alone, there have been 1,619 cybersecurity-related incidents in schools.
In addition, learning loss is top of mind for a lot of us right now, with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reporting less-than-ideal reading and math scores nationwide. (Although some of the latest How Kids Are Performing data from Renaissance tells us that the tide is beginning to turn, and students are slowly improving.)
The ever-changing challenges and politicized topics in education such as social-emotional learning and Critical Race Theory came up in several sessions and conversations as well.
What’s one thing that education reporters are optimistic about as it relates to the state of education?
While the pandemic changed a lot of things, it also pushed us to embrace edtech almost overnight. And while it meant remote learning became the norm, it also gave educators the chance to personalize instruction for their students.
Each one of us is unique and learns in our own way. In education, it feels like we’re finally moving away from “one-size-fits-all” instruction and it’s exciting to see how educators are leveraging edtech to build their students’ skills, confidence and so much more. Edtech is now mainstream.
What’s the best thing you ate or drank in Atlanta?
I ended up finding this little take-out restaurant that had some of the best chicken and mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever had. Also, I’m a big yogurt fan. I have yogurt pretty much every morning and the EWA team had not just yogurt for us each morning, but granola and a few other toppings—important fuel for those long days of learning and socializing.