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NPR to Expand Education Coverage With Grant Bounty

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The $17 million in grants announced this week for NPR will go in part for the public broadcaster to increase its coverage of education.

"NPR will drive the national dialogue on education through impactful storytelling around such key issues as common core, higher education and the arts in education," the Washington-based nonprofit organization said in a news release

NPR (which in a branding move some time ago dropped the use of its full name, National Public Radio) announced a package of grants from four philanthropies—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wallace Foundation, and Ford Foundation—as well as from several individual donors.

npr logo education.jpg

The expanded education coverage is coming out of the Wallace and Gates grants, said NPR. It didn't break down which amount each donor was giving, but Current.org, a Web publication that covers the public broadcasting world, said in a report Sunday Wallace was providing $1.5 million and Gates was giving $1.8 million. 

NPR will add a lead blogger, a senior editor, and an associate producer to its education coverage, Current said. They will join an existing team that includes education reporters Claudio Sanchez and Eric Westervelt. The expanded coverage will draw on collaboration with member stations as well, Current said. 

The $17 million in grants are also aimed at two other coverage areas: global health and development and NPR's coverage of race, ethnicity, and culture under the "Code Switch" moniker. The other big aim of the grants is to "reimagine the digital listening experience," the organization said, which means coming up with a local and national listening "platform" involving NPR itself and six of its big member stations: KPCC in southern California, KQED in San Francisco, MPR in Minnesota, WBUR in Boston, WHYY in Philadelphia, and WNYC in New York City.

Current says that about $10 million in the new grants will go for the development of this "listener app" targeted initially to smartphones.

The targeted grants are not expected to solve NPR's projected budget deficit of more than $6 million in the coming year. The organization announced in September that it was seeking to reduce its 840-member staff by 10 percent through voluntary buyouts.

NPR's education coverage is probably already the deepest of any broadcast news organization in the country. Veteran beat reporter Sanchez has had reports recently on troubles in the Philadelphia public schools, on a Miami charter school opened by the rap artist Pit Bull, and parental understanding of the Common Core State Standards.

Westervelt has had reports on ever-shorter school lunch periods, the resilience of school recess, and tablet computer programs in schools.

One reason NPR has de-emphasized its traditional name is that it is not only a radio news outlet anymore, but a Web one as well.

In November, NPR reporter Frank James, who co-writes "The Two-Way" blog on npr.org, published what was apparently a print-only story on the site with the headline, "Education Secretary Loses Some of His Luster."

The story made a case that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was no longer the "shining bipartisan success story" in President Obama's cabinet, because of, among other things, his comment that "white suburban moms" were leading the opposition to the common standards.

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