Originally posted on yourkatynews.com

By Rusty Graham

panelDelivery platforms may have changed and numbers may be dwindling, but traditional media still play a vital role in public policy conversations.

“When people care about issues, they make their point-of-view known. The Legislature hears them,” said Evan Smith, editor in chief of the Texas Tribune.

Smith moderated a panel of education journalists last week at a discussion sponsored by Houston A+ Challenge.

Panelists were Alan Gottlieb, publisher of the Education News Network, Ericka Mellon, education reporter for the Houston Chronicle, and Morgan Smith, education reporter for the Texas Tribune.

Mellon said that reduced resources make it difficult for reporters to really delve into issues, that most reporting is done on the bigger issues.

Gottlieb, whose ENN includes public education news sites in Colorado and New York, said that’s where his organization tries to go.

“Education is so important,” he said. “Covering it in a really deep way is more important that ever.” ENN, he said, covers public education issues from “idea to implementation.”

Morgan Smith said that she tries to “strike a balance” in her stories, writing for both those who are less informed and those who are know more about an issue. “You have to appeal to both,” she said.

Social media has certain advantages for media, the panel said.

Gottlieb said that Twitter has helped make media seem “less monolithic” and more as people.

And reporters use social media networks as a way of finding sources that might have gone unnoticed before.

“(Social media) gives a voice to people who might not have had one before,” said Mellon, who said she live Tweets Houston ISD board meeting.

Evan Smith, former editor of Texas Monthly, said that when he got to Texas in 1991, the state’s major cities had two daily newspapers, and a large contingent of reporters covering the Capitol.

By 2007, those cities were down to a single daily newspaper and the Capitol press corps was significantly smaller. Smith said the idea for the Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan digital news organization, was borne out of conversations among journalists bemoaning the lack of public service journalism in Texas, explanatory journalism that gives people “a reason to care.”

The big debate during 2011’s 82nd Legislature was how much state funding that public education would lose, a number that wound up at roughly $5.4 billion.

“In the abstract, what does that mean?” said Smith. “If you personalize the information then people take notice.”

Fast forward to 2013 and the 83rd Legislature, where the school finance lawsuit has put money on the back burner for now, with school choice and testing and accountability the hot public education issues.

Smith said that although some 84 percent of Texas public school districts have passed resolutions against STAAR and its 15 end-of-course exams, it’s unlikely that the entire system will be scrapped.

“We’ll wind up with something (in between zero and 15 tests),” he said. “It’s complicated, and the media has a role (in that discussion).”

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