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Media: First Look At The Atlantic's Education Page [@TheAtlanticEDU]

Good news-bad newsSo it's been a few days now since the Atlantic education page launched, and while others may have been paying closer attention (tell me!) I feel like I'm beginning to get the sense of what it's going to be all about (at least for now).

Edited by Eleanor Barkhorn (veteran Atlantic.com channel editor) and staffed by Julia Ryan (@julialeighryan), you can read the introductory explanation from Barkhorn here (Introducing The Atlantic's Education Channel) and get a look at a recent post by Ryan here (How Much Homework Do American Kids Do?). 

So far, at least, it's basically shaping up to be an all-education version of the site's National page, which has has long carried education reporting from EWA's Emily Richmond (What Makes a Great Teacher: Training? Experience? Intelligence? Grit?) and Hechinger. For a long list of posts I've written about or with Atlantic.com material in the past, click here.

But that's not all.  There's also education-related commentary, which was previously verboten on the National page, such as this post from Robert Pondiscio (Poor Students Need Homework). That could be great, if it's smart and edgy stuff, or could devolve if it becomes predictable or is full of just the most self-serving kinds of viewpoints (a la Huffington Post).  Look also for personal narratives such as this one ('I Don't Want My Children to Go to College').
My favorite piece so far has been Todd Tauber's rant on education's latest latecomers (When Media Companies Try to Become Education Companies), partly because of the topic and also because of Tauber's obvious familiarity with the field and willingness to do some reporting.  Crossed fingers for more of like that, though it may be hard or expensive to find people who can do that kind of work.
Long term, the challenge for any vertical like this is to generate enough quality content to make it worth reading without requiring so many resources that it's not paying for itself. It's notoriously difficult to make enough money through ads, etc. while giving the content away for free. Despite indefatiguable efforts, the fulltime blogger/reporter combo at Huffington Post didn't last. Politico PRO has started charging an arm and a leg for access to its team of education reporters.

Other than cross-posted stuff from EWA or Hechinger, I haven't seen any original reported stories, at least not in the traditional sense of field or event reporting, so in that way there's no competition with Politico's newish education page.  And there hasn't been any BuzzFeed-style listicle-making or Huffington Post-like bottom-scraping -- though there have been some close calls (More Teachers Should Assign the Racy Popular Novels of America's Past).

The other challenge, of course, is to make the channel interesting enough to grab younger readers' attention while sensible and balanced enough not to offend the sensibilities of the older folks who are likely to be core readers.  I don't know Atlantic.com's demographics but it doesn't seem like a natural starting point for 20- and 30-somethings who have other places (The Awl, Hairpin, Toast, n+1, Jacobin) that skew younger or further to the left.

By and large, the page seems aimed at, well, Atlantic.com readers -- college-educated liberals, parents of college kids with the worries and interests that The Atlantic has covered in the past and you might expect (ie, homework, college, preschoolers using iPads, TFA, rascally boys).  There's nothing wrong with that -- fits me to a T -- but it's safe and may not lead to the breakout kinds of success and readership that I'm hoping for.

This is just a preliminary take.  I'm still hoping to talk to Barkhorn about her vision for the channel (and perhaps to persuade her that I might be helpful).  I'll let you know on both fronts.  I've been a big fan and user of Atlantic.com blog posts for a while now, as you may have noticed, and have been excited and nervous about this page since I first heard it was in development.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.