March 17, 2018

Expanding News Coverage of Higher Ed Is Good for Us | From the Bell Tower

Steven BellOnce you get past The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, reporting on news developments in higher education—and thus shaping what is considered newsworthy—is scattershot. But as public interest in higher ed grows, it’s attracting more news coverage.

My first blog, no longer maintained, focused on higher education news. I handpicked the articles that reported the events and developments that seemed most relevant to academic librarians, and provided summaries and links. My philosophy is that academic librarians should know more than just what’s happening in librarianship. Academic librarians should stay up-to-date with higher education. Failure to do so, for me at least, is a form of professional neglect; ignoring trends in higher education could lead to oversights and problems in our academic libraries. Investing the time to follow higher ed news wisely can also help an academic librarian to develop a reputation in the library or on campus as someone who really knows what’s happening in the world of higher education. The ability to thoughtfully engage with non-library colleagues about academia’s issues of the day is a skill worth cultivating.

From Scarcity to Abundance

When my blog was active, identifying good source content could be difficult and occasionally time consuming—one reason I finally shut it down. It required constant monitoring and scrounging about for items of interest, particularly those “off the beaten path” news articles. (I avoided linking to content from the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. Too easy—and every academic librarian should routinely scan at least those two daily without needing an assist from a colleague.)

Things appear to be changing now. More news media outlets are showing an interest in higher education. Why now, what does it mean, and how might it benefit academic librarians? And what might the implications be for effective keeping-up if those who attempt to do so efficiently are suddenly inundated with a flood of content, a good amount of which is sure to be of low quality?

More Than Local News

While regional newspapers have traditionally served as outlets for news about local institutions, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s solid coverage of the battle over breaking up Pennsylvania’s state system of higher education, a gap has persisted in reports of current trends that may be shaping the industry. The New York Times still stands as a leader with its in depth reporting and Education Life section, although it also occasionally points to trends that may be of dubious value. Sources such as Huffington Post and Politico have met some of the need, and I have noticed The Atlantic is making reports about higher education a more regular feature. Granted, some of the stories may be more sensational and less substantive, but overall we should be pleased with the increase in coverage. It increases the diversity in what we can learn about higher education from different perspectives.

Increased Interest for Good Reason

Why the sudden increased interest in higher education? No one knows for sure, but one of the more obvious possibilities is that, put simply, higher education is experiencing change. There are more captivating news items to report and people want to know how change in higher education is going to effect them. Prospective college students and their parents are a primary target audience for news media coverage of higher education. They are certainly attracted to news about tuition, debt, and education quality, but the offbeat items get their attention too. Exposure to stories about fraternity life or adjunct faculty opens a door to the lesser known side of higher education. But there’s more to it than just an increased public interest.

It’s a Hot Space

As a growing number of digital news outlets compete for readers, higher education offers more content value. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the competition is leading online news purveyors to higher ed’s door. “It is not about education per se, it is about the verticalization of Internet journalism,” said one expert, referring to the trend of sites seeking specific information for specific audiences. Given the amount of revenue generated by higher education and the drive to develop new delivery models, business is also taking more interest in the industry news. That makes it a hot space for journalists.

Good for Academic Librarians

Whatever the reasons, the growing level of national interest in higher education should be a boon for academic librarians who take their “keeping up” seriously. There should be more good content from which to choose, and we would hope that journalists covering the industry will add quality content that will shed new light on higher education. The potential downside is simply an increase in junk reporting that makes it even more challenging to identify the good content. That’s already a problem on the Huffington Post, where you are now just as likely to find content about college students’ sex lives as you are to come across a substantive news item. None of us needs to spend more time wading through journalistic schlock. What remains the same is the need to develop a solid regimen, taking advantage of tailored searches, alerts, and feeds of daily or weekly reviews of higher education reporting. Done right, it’s a powerful form of personalized professional development.

Steven Bell About Steven Bell

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the current vice president/president-elect of ACRL. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.

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