1 K-12 reporter for 7.7 million people
Only two full-time K-12 education reporters cover the San Francisco Bay Area for the major newspapers, I wrote on The Grade a few weeks ago. There are about 7.7 million people in the nine-county Bay Area, about a quarter of California’s public schools.
Now, there’s one K-12 reporter left, Jill Tucker at the San Francisco Chronicle. My former colleague Sharon Noguchi, one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever known, has left the San Jose Mercury News as part of a wave of buy-outs and layoffs at the Bay Area Newspaper Group (BANG).
Noguchi remembers when the Mercury News alone had 10 education reporters, supervised by an education team editor. . . . “Local education doesn’t get covered, even though it’s what people really want to read,” says Noguchi. “You want to know what’s going on in your school, your district.”
Sharon was bird-dogging a financial mess — incompetence, corruption or both — in a large San Jose district. Who will have time to do that now?
When Tucker started at the Chronicle in 2006, she was one of five K-12 education reporters. “It breaks my heart that we don’t have enough people paying attention to the 100 districts in the Bay Area,” she told me. “We can’t play the watchdog role.”
It takes time to learn the education beat — or any other beat. It takes time to do good reporting. It takes people. The Mercury News now has 27 editorial staffers, according to the Newspaper Guild. That’s down from 440 when I left in early 2001, just before the huge drop in classified advertising due to online competition. It’s not enough.
I worked on the editorial pages, which had 12 people on staff when I left. The editorial page editor took a buy-out — I’m going to her retirement party tonight — leaving one editorial writer on staff at the Merc. I wouldn’t be surprised if the editorial pages disappear.
I feel sad to see good people end their careers before their time and to see my old newspaper die by a thousand cuts.