The PBJ mission — and our solution

The Project’s mission is to provide access to quality educational programming and student journalism for all. We think we’re tackling a well-scoped and tremendously important problem in a new, smarter way.

What’s the problem?

In recent years, most American schools have shifted their focus — funding, staffing, and priorities — away from extracurricular programs like arts and journalism, and towards core fields like English and math.

A lot of this shift has been driven by budget cuts. School districts in affluent and less fortunate neighborhoods alike are dealing with severe deficits and cutting costs where they can. Because journalism programs are traditionally done through print media, printing newspapers and magazines becomes very expensive to support.

We can also attribute some of this shift to increased prioritization of standardized testing and focus on measuring students. It doesn’t look like extracurricular programs can boost a school’s numbers, many schools reason, so they have to go. To some, it seems better for a teacher to pick up a fifth English class than teach a “wasted” elective.

What’s the result of all of this? Our schools’ journalism programs are being hurt. Nearly all of them are downsizing and still more are simply shutting down. This is happening for schools from all states and of all backgrounds, and is continuing to happen at an alarming rate. It is devastating.

It’s time we helped our students. They deserve — and need — better.

Why is journalism so important?

Extracurricular programs are strong supporters and motivators for students. These programs supplement educations in meaningful ways. In many of the schools we work with, it can be the factor that determines whether a student cares about school enough to graduate.

Of extracurricular programs, journalism is often the best and most effective: it teaches English writing skills, encourages students to participate in our democracy and ask questions critically, and engages schools with the communities they’re in.

They’re also in high demand by students. Young Americans perceive the importance of media in our democracy and want to strengthen it.

Our students rank electives and journalism is always the most popular. We just can’t offer that many classes — and if students got proper academic credit, the demand would be even higher.

Said to us by the faculty adviser of one of our chapters

What is PBJ doing about it?

The Project for Better Journalism is unique. We are the only organization focusing on student journalism as a way of bettering educational outcomes.

Our goal is to be the infrastructure for journalism advisers. So teachers can focus on teaching, and leave the rest to us.

We’re different in a few ways.

We’re operating at scale.

While many grants and foundations target schools for one-off donations, they’re short-lived and don’t solve the root problem. We’ve seen a lot of schools that had booming journalism programs for a year or two, but regressed when the funding ran out.

One of our key premises is that we can do what we do for a lot of schools — all at once, and extremely effectively. We’ve reduced our costs in an intelligent way by taking advantage of economies of scale. We offer an online journalism platform we manage, for example, which lets us standardize our support and decrease overhead.

We’re a technology solution…

It’s time schools were brought into this century. While we support print journalism (and any school that wants to keep their print publication alive), it would be prohibitive for us to fund. Instead, we pour our energy into producing a top-notch online platform.

Being online lets us further reduce our costs, but it also lets us offer features and functionality previously limited to the big shots. We are a technically adept team (with an engineering division) that lets us build out and support beautiful interfaces, multimedia, and more.

…but also a human solution.

We also think that the lack of human touch in education technology today is often alarming. We’ve spent a great deal of effort building a team of compassionate people. While we optimize everything, we don’t remove the humanity.

For example, our team reaches out to prospective schools individually as part of our outreach program. We’re building a network of professional journalists so schools have access to Q&As and workshops from top experts. And we’re connecting our chapter schools together so they can produce collaborative events (like art shows and debates) and learn from each other.

All of this is labor intensive, but we think it’s the right thing to do. We also involve student volunteers from the schools we work with, so they can see the other side of the operation.

This is a smarter organization

We’re a smarter organization helping to build the American education of the future.

While quality journalism programs are only one small piece, we think they are an extremely important — and often neglected — portion of a good education. Our plate is full focusing on them alone. Our goal is to impact and help every single student get access to such a program.

We hope you’ll support us in our mission.