Michael Staton, the CEO of the "Facebook for Higher Ed" startup Inigral, unleashed a fiery blog post this morning on Higher Ed Live, demanding to know why are we giving up on software for education. "That's it, I've had it," he writes. "The information market is broken. Education Media and the Education Blogosphere are obsessed with generic (and successful) social platforms, but largely ignore startups focused on education."
As part of the education media/blogosphere, I feel compelled to respond, and I'd like to note with some irony that I'm postponing working a story on an ed-tech startup, set to go up on MindShift tomorrow, so that I can get something written in response to Staton.
The Pressures of Pageviews
But that's the thing, isn't it. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many stories a journalist or a publication can churn out in a day. As such, editorial decisions have to be made on what to cover. And since much of what motivates online publication these days is pageviews (because of pageviews' relationship to advertising dollars and to sponsorships), those editorial decisions do tend to give preference to established companies -- to the "generic (and successful) social platforms" that Staton talks about, sure, most more damningly I'd say, to the big and powerful players in education technology.
This doesn't just happen in education publications, of course. It happens in the tech press as well. In an interesting blog post earlier this summer, Breakthrough.com's CEO Mark Goldenson looked at "The Math of Techcrunch" to see if the premier technology blog had, as some people felt, reduced its coverage of startups. He found that more than half the stories on Techcrunch focused on bigger companies, and a third of the stories were about just 10 companies (I bet you can name 'em).
The Lure of Techcrunch
Yet Techcrunch still remains the Holy Grail for startups looking for media coverage, and even though -- with apologies to my friends over at that publication -- the blog doesn't know jack shit about education, I'd wager that most ed-tech startups have approached Techcrunch for a write-up long before they've approached any other publication -- education, tech, ed-tech or otherwise.
Now, I do understand the lure of the Techcrunch story. It's a way for a startup to make a big splash upon entry, and -- importantly for a lot of new companies -- it's a publication that investors read. But it's not a publication that educators read, and as Staton makes clear in his post today, those publications that are geared towards educators are pretty closed to startups. It's not always clear who to pitch, for example. The "tips" line, if they have one, is a black hole to nowhere. And a lot of the traditional education publications and journalists fail miserably when it comes to reaching out via social media to their readership, let alone to potential story subjects. (I'd add -- again with apologies to writers I know at those publications -- they often don't know jack shit about technology.)
Pitching Education Stories
But before we go too far down the road of lambasting the education press for their lack of coverage of ed-tech startups, I think it's important that ed-tech startups take a look at their outreach too. Do you want to be covered by the education press? (Which publications, and why?) And/or do you want to be covered by the tech press? (Again, which publications and why?) What's your strategy for approaching those two realms? Do you send one press release to everyone (after Techcrunch has published its "exclusive," of course)? Or do you cater your pitch to the publication and in turn to its audience? Do you identify sympathetic and smart reporters in the space? Do you reach out to them directly?
Because, hey, I think I'm one of those reporters, and I don't get pitches from ed-tech startups. I do my very best to keep up with the space. I monitor Twitter. I have a slew of Google alerts. I subscribe to almost every major tech blog and almost every education publication. I talk to teachers and to entrepreneurs in the space daily.
And yet, I haven't heard of many of the companies that Staton mentions in his post. And of the 11 he lists, I've only spoken with 3 of them: Grockit, Inkling, and CourseKit. I did meet Staton at a party at a friend's house once, but -- see here's the thing -- Inigral has never reached out to me either. Not when I wrote for ReadWriteWeb, and not since I quit to focus on ed-tech journalism.
My Responsibility in All This
I'm definitely willing to take my share of blame here. I've got a list of startups I need to contact: Hoot.me, TalkChalk, Kibin, for example. I had an email introduction to Vittana's Kushal Chakrabarti sitting in my inbox for a year -- I kid you not -- before we finally had a chance to talk earlier this month. I owe follow-up messages to him and to others. And I need to pester Skillshare for an interview as the startup -- cough -- hasn't followed up on my email inquiry.
Now okay, I realize, I'm not Education Week. I'm not eSchool News. I'm not The Chronicle of Higher Education. I'm just one freelance education technology journalist. And there's no way I will defend those publications here as I am just as critical of their coverage of technology as I am of tech publications' coverage of education. I've said it before -- it's the whole rationale for this blog -- what counts as "journalism" in this space sucks. But frankly, it sucks when it comes to analyzing the big name companies as much as it does when it comes to looking at the new kids on the block.
For his part, Staton has been working on getting the message out about ed-tech startups via a new Startup Alley in the exhibit hall of the upcoming Educause conference. Me, I'm not sure I think that's the best use of a startup's funds. (Hell, as a freelance writer, I'm not sure it's the best use of my funds to go to the conference.)
DIY Ed-Tech Media
A far cheaper alternative to get the word out is, of course, to have the Internet do it for you, whether that's via your own blog, via educators' blogs, or via ed-tech blogs like this one. Because maybe, just maybe, the old guard of education technology media should fall to the wayside much like we wish a lot of that old education technology would.
I'm definitely open to suggestions as to how we can hasten the demise of both. (And as always, I'm open to pitches from ed-tech startups!)