Chalkbeat Year in Review 2020
Jennifer Bramble began her role as our very first chief people officer, further solidifying our commitment to being an antiracist organization. Over the year, Jennifer has worked to create a more inclusive culture at Chalkbeat, ensure that our staff receives ongoing training to address personal bias and, and has organized our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) task force.
We hired our first social media strategist, Susan Gonzalez, to be our newsroom’s go-to-guru for strategy and best practices on our social media platforms. She joined Chalkbeat’s growing engagement team, which has allowed us to boost our online presence, hold ourselves accountable to reporting for and with communities, and host more events than we ever have in the past.
“Keep it coming. What you do is really important. Especially during COVID, Chalkbeat is one of the first things I read every morning.”
The news of the coronavirus pandemic forced us to act quickly and shut down all of our offices for the safety of our staff. Fortunately, our teams were already uniquely prepared for remote work as we have a dispersed workforce that is used to virtual collaboration. As parents and teachers grappled with school closures, Chalkbeat bureaus collaborated to paint a vivid picture of the immediate impact of school closures, chronicling what a day without school looked like for students and teachers across the nation. Other cross-team efforts included stories examining the impact on child care providers and students with disabilities, and one of the first stories in the country about what remote learning might look like. As a result of our coverage, we experienced record readership numbers — 3.1 million pageviews by the end of month, triple our original target.
While many news organizations saw a return to normal traffic in April, our readers continued to look to us for up-to-the-minute information on how the pandemic was affecting their schools and what the remainder of the school year could possibly look like. We hit more than double our original target, with 2.5 million pageviews by the end of month.
Additionally, our website’s migration to Chorus, Vox Media’s publishing tool, was officially completed in April after more than a year of preparation. The move to this content management system has allowed us to reach new audiences and markets, helped to maximize our revenue, and streamlined the reading experience for our readers.
“I admire your commitment to education, readers and communities. Keep up the good work!”
Several of our reporters received well-deserved recognition for their work. Colorado reporter Ann Schimke was named an EWA fellow to lead a cross-bureau project on reading instruction in the early grades. The Chicago team landed two prizes in the Chicago Headline Club’s annual awards ceremony for outstanding journalism — best newsletter and best breaking news story for our strike coverage in their online category. The SPJ Indiana awards honored the team with first place in coverage of minority issues, education reporting, and government reporting. Reporter Dylan Peers McCoy’s series on the state’s hidden dropouts also won second place in investigative reporting.
We hosted our first annual State of Chalkbeat and Public Education, an exclusive virtual event for Chalkbeat’s members. The event was moderated by Elizabeth Green and featured a panel discussion of our local and national reporters, who answered questions submitted by our readers about how Chalkbeat’s work had changed due to the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 on education, and what we expected to see in the following school year.
“Vital work in an extremely important time in the history of American education systems.”
Our managing editor for national news, Sarah Darville, co-published an analysis piece with the New York times on the complexities of reopening schools during the pandemic. The story expertly weighed parents’ reliance on schools and the services they provide against the risks of an unchecked pandemic and the lack of any federal guidance for schools.
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a staple in the city since 1994, formalized their partnership with Chalkbeat to launch Chalkbeat Philadelphia. The Notebook’s Dale Mezzacappa joined Chalkbeat as the bureau’s senior reporter and former senior editor of The Philadelphia Tribune, Johann Calhoun, joined as the bureau chief.
Chalkbeat’s newsroom staff formed a union, the Chalkbeat Guild, with the Writers Guild of America, East. Read more about the Guild and how they will strengthen Chalkbeat’s journalism in their introductory letter here.
We reached a major milestone with 1,000 Chalkbeat members! Our members enjoy exclusive benefits such as priority invitation to events, access to chat with our reporters and editors, the opportunity to weigh in on topics, and of course, cool Chalkbeat swag.
This month we also launched the Freshman year, at a distance series, a cross-bureau collaboration that followed a handful of 9th-graders as they attempted to navigate their first year of high school remotely, or socially distanced behind masks.
We launched Votebeat, a pop-up newsroom that deployed reporters in key battleground states to cover election administration amidst the pandemic. Votebeat worked with the Institute for Nonprofit News and ProPublica’s Electionland to administer the project, and collaborated with local newsrooms such as SpotlightPA, WURD radio, Bridge Michigan, and CalMatters.
We held an exclusive event for Chalkbeat members with former NFL player and “Mind and Matter” author John Urschel. The event was hosted by New York Times bestselling author David Epstein, author of popular books “Range” and “The Sports Gene.”
We raised over $170,000 in our end-of-year membership campaign from just over 1,000 donors. (This was a massive increase from 2019, when we raised $56,000.) This year all donors who gave $100+ received Chalkbeat socks, becoming honorary members of our Sockbeat crew!