Inside Chalkbeat

Introducing myself and Chalkbeat’s effort to serve you better

Good morning, future Chalkbeat Colorado readers! (It’s got a nice ring to it, right?)

As promised, we want to continue to update you about our journey to becoming Chalkbeat. (In case you missed it, we told you why we’re changing our name to Chalkbeat, re-introduced you to our bureau chief Maura Walz and also took you behind the scenes with our old and new reporters.)

Today, I want to tell you briefly about my job as “director of engagement.” I was hired as a reporter at GothamSchools in New York in April and then became Chalkbeat’s first “director of engagement” a couple months ago. We define engagement as “the body of work that maximizes our readers’ opportunities to access, learn from, interact with, and act on our journalism.” In simpler terms, it means I want to get more people to read, share and talk about our stories.

Reporters can write dozens of stories a day that expose problems or spur debate, but if no one sees those stories, does the reporting even matter? Bet you can guess my answer. I’ll be making sure our reporting makes it to the people who need it most. (You can read more about my engagement strategy and my background in this Q&A published by ReportHers).

While I’ll be overseeing our engagement efforts at all four of our bureaus, I’ll be based in New York and will work closely with Colorado community editor Tiffany Montano and New York community editor Emma Sokoloff-Rubin – you’ll hear from both of them next week.

Here’s what my job means for Chalkbeat Colorado readers:

1. A stronger sense of community. We want Chalkbeat Colorado to be a place where educators, policymakers and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. One way I want to achieve that is by improving our comments section. So I’ve worked with our bureau chiefs to write a new comments policy that will be shared with you and enforced regularly once our new site launches. We hope that our renewed focus on our comments section will create a more welcoming venue for reader comments that lead to productive conversation.

2. Having an advocate in the newsroom. My goal is to bring a user and reader perspective to our newsroom as often as possible. I want to make sure our stories are easy to understand and that readers feel like their voices are being heard. My job is to remind our reporters and editors every day that ultimately, we are here to serve you.

3.  More opportunities to contribute to our reporting and interact with reporters. Some of our best stories come from our tips e-mail address and we often read valuable insights in our comments section and on Twitter. I’ll be advising each bureau on how best to build relationships with readers and I’ll also be devising ways for readers to contribute to the content on our website.

One example is our School Snapshot project, in which we asked you all to submit photos of something that makes your school special or unique and tell us about it. We’re extending the deadline until the end of this month and if you haven’t submitted one yet, you can check out the photos from each of our bureaus below for some inspiration! And if you have any questions about my job or suggestions about what my job should be, e-mail me at aanand@chalkbeat.org or Tweet me at @anikaanand00.

Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”
Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”
Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”
Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”

 

This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”
This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”
Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast,  Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”
Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast, Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”

 

Inside Chalkbeat

I’m Chalkbeat’s new audience engagement editor. Here’s how I think about community and impact.

PHOTO: Sam Hodgson / Voice of San Diego
A throwback to 2014; Catherine Green co-hosting a live podcast recording for Voice of San Diego

Technically my first day at Chalkbeat was January 7, but I hope you’ll forgive the delay in saying hello. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting people left and right, bookmarking community organizations and movers-and-shakers in the seven locations where we operate, and getting up to speed on our audience engagement strategies. Now that I can catch my breath, I wanted to take a moment to share my own perspective on engagement and what I’m hoping to do at Chalkbeat.

A lot has changed since I started working in engagement six years ago, but plenty remains the same. Comment sections are still prone to devolving into petty fighting without rigorous moderation. News organizations are still sorting out which traffic metrics they pay attention to, and which ones define success. The role of “engagement editor” in newsrooms, unlike “City Hall reporter” or “editor in chief,” can still resemble an amorphous blob, containing as much or as little as an outlet cares to hear from its audience.

Chalkbeat lands on the upper end of the spectrum, and its engagement-centric approach is part of what drew me to work here. I first learned about Chalkbeat back in 2013, when I was engagement editor at Voice of San Diego.

What immediately stood out: Chalkbeat’s MORI system, which remains the most thoughtful approach I’ve seen for measuring impact in the communities a news outlet covers. This isn’t the case everywhere, but to me, and most importantly to Chalkbeat, engagement and impact are intertwined; journalists’ work doesn’t yield impact if readers aren’t part of the conversation. While growing our audience is important (have you told a friend about Chalkbeat yet? We’d appreciate the help!), and will be a significant part of my job, our bureaus are motivated by doing work that matters, that informs debate and spurs action that results in better schools — not necessarily work that will go viral.

Since then, Chalkbeat has grown to seven bureaus with national coverage on top of that, and there are plans to expand to even more cities around the country in the future. Though my career path had carried me away from mission-driven nonprofit newsrooms, I found myself checking back in on Chalkbeat.

I spent 2018 as a senior editor at The New Republic, focused on engagement; before that, I was assignment editor and managing editor for the website of The Atlantic. I’d spent three years at legacy institutions, and though I’d known going into those experiences that the audiences would be bigger, and the metaphorical walls surrounding the newsrooms higher, than they had been in the nonprofit world, I don’t think I appreciated how different the mindsets around engagement — and impact — would be.

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard about several Chalkbeat stories that came directly from community engagement. One in particular stands out in my mind: the story of Javion, a 16-year-old in Chicago’s public school system who reads at a second-grade level. Our reporter Adeshina Emmanuel learned about Javion’s difficulties during last year’s listening tour, a series of in-person events where Chalkbeat staff aimed to empower people in the community to share their own stories.

Here was the engagement I cared about, where journalists sought to report with and for communities, not just “on” them; here was the commitment to driving impact by working with our readers, aiming for results above and beyond a CNN chyron name-dropping our cover story or Donald Trump tweet-ranting against our work. Here was journalism as public service.

So what will I be doing at Chalkbeat? I’ll be making it easier for us to reach more people in our communities, in person and online. I’ll be fine-tuning our social media practices, establishing and maintaining partnerships with other media outlets and community organizations, and helping our bureaus pull off events that amplify diverse voices. Generally, I’ll be managing how we talk to and hear from our audience — which includes you.

As I get started, I’d love to hear from you. What do you want to see more of from Chalkbeat? What are you hoping to get out of the newsletters? If you live near one of our bureau locations (especially Indianapolis, where I’m currently based), I’d love your suggestions for potential partners: Who’s doing good work in your city to improve education and build a stronger sense of community? Let’s chat: cgreen@chalkbeat.org

growth plans

Now hiring: Chalkbeat Newark is set to expand

PHOTO: Bene Cipolla/Chalkbeat
A Chalkbeat Newark focus group in 2018. The nonprofit news organization will add a new reporter in June.

Chalkbeat Newark has some breaking news of our own to report: We’re expanding.

Less than a year after Chalkbeat opened a new bureau dedicated to New Jersey’s largest school system, we’re adding another reporter in June. We’re expanding through Report for America, an innovative program that places beginning journalists in communities that need — and deserve — more on-the-ground reporting, and we especially welcome applicants from Newark.

“We are thrilled to have support to add more reporting capacity to our team in Newark,” said Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat’s co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief. The bureau is the organization’s seventh; Chalkbeat also has reporters in Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Indiana, New York, and Tennessee, and is continuing to grow.

“We launched coverage in Newark at the request of a diverse group of community members,” Green continued. “Since then, more and more members of the community have told us they value the work we are doing: holding officials accountable, keeping the conversation honest, and shedding light on the consequences of major decisions that affect public education.”

The new reporter will bolster Chalkbeat’s coverage at a pivotal moment for Newark, as the district completes its transition from decades of state oversight back to local control, and as a new superintendent begins to make his mark on the 36,000-student school system.

The reporter will be partly funded by Report for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening local news coverage. The group, which is modeled on Americorps, is helping this year to place 60 journalists in newsrooms across the country — from Puerto Rico to Wisconsin to California and now New Jersey. Report for America will split the cost of the journalist with Chalkbeat and local donors.

Report for America was founded by two media veterans, Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott, who worried that the downsizing of newsrooms across the country threatens democracy. The nonprofit organization receives funding from a number of donors, including the Ford Foundation, Facebook, and Google.

Newsrooms that host Report for America-funded journalists have complete control over their work; donors play no part in the editorial process.

“Like all support to Chalkbeat, this gift comes with no strings attached,” Green said. “Our ultimate responsibility is always to tell the truth.”

Journalists interested in covering Newark schools (or any of the other RFA-sponsored roles) have until Feb. 8 to apply for the position. Along with their normal reporting duties, Report for America hires must also participate in a community-service project, such as mentoring student journalists.

We especially welcome Newark-based reporters to apply. If you know someone who’s right for the job, please encourage them to submit their information.