How to be a Chalkbeat source

For Chalkbeat to tell the story of education in America, we need folks like you — teachers, parents, students, and curious citizens — to help inform our reporting. This guide will help you share your tips and experiences with Chalkbeat.

What to expect from Chalkbeat
One of Chalkbeat’s aims is to foster a nuanced conversation about education changes among a diverse community of educators, policymakers, students, and parents. We promise to treat every source with the respect and dignity they deserve. We promise to provide a welcoming and trusting environment for all to share their story. Each story we hear from the community is important, and we will do our best to tell it accurately.

Connect with Chalkbeat!
Need to get in touch with us? Send us an email to tips@chalkbeat.org, or send a secure text message via the Signal app to 908-827-1494.

What makes a good tip?
Chalkbeat’s mission is to tell the important story of improving schools in communities that have historically lacked access to a quality education. When we evaluate stories for their newsworthiness and decide how to approach them, we consider our mission.

A good tip for a Chalkbeat reporter relates to how educational practices, policies, and laws affect students from low-income homes and other underserved groups. Your tip should let us know why you think the story you’re telling us about is important, and, ideally, should be supported with documentation or other evidence. Chalkbeat is especially interested in how local education issues fit into the bigger, national debate about education.

A few examples of good news tips:

  • My school has been trying a new approach to teaching math, and we think it’s working based on internal data.
  • I think a school board member is acting unethically. Here’s proof, including emails.
  • Our new suspension policy is being enforced unevenly; here’s some data from a recent PTO meeting that shows just how bad it is.
  • I have inside knowledge about internal education department practices I believe should be public knowledge.

Know the rules about “off the record”

You’ve probably heard the phrase “off the record” and “background” thrown around before. But what do they mean and how does it work?

  • On the record: Whenever you’re talking to a reporter, you’re usually automatically “on the record.” This means that a reporter can quote what you say in a story, including your name and title. We strive to publish information that’s on the record because we value transparency. We will always identify ourselves as Chalkbeat reporters.
  • Off the record: When you tell a reporter something “off the record,” that means the reporter can’t use the information you provide in a story. The reporter may discuss with you other strategies to confirm the information and will never disclose — directly or indirectly — that you provided the initial tip. If you want something “off the record,” be sure to say that up front, and make sure the reporter agrees to go off the record.
  • Anonymous: When you tell a reporter something on the record, but you don’t want to be identified by name, you serve as an anonymous source. We only grant this in special cases. You may discuss anonymity with our reporters, but you should know that they will likely try to work with you to provide at least some identifying information in any story that includes quotes or information from you. We seek to avoid including anonymous sources in our stories because it weakens our credibility as a news organization if we cannot demonstrate to readers why the information we report is reliable. Even if you do not agree to be quoted and we don’t grant anonymity, the information you provide can help us better understand the stories we are telling. Here’s an example of how Chalkbeat used an anonymous source.
Chalkbeat reporter Melanie Asmar, left, at a press conference. Photo courtesy AFSC & Coloradans For Immigrant Rights

Regardless of whether you want to be on or off the record, you should never hesitate to reach out to Chalkbeat. Every reporter here will work with you to determine the best and safest way to share your information.

While these guidelines are fairly well established among journalists, some reporters use the terms in slightly different ways. When talking with any reporter, be sure to set clear parameters on your relationship.

Know the rules about open records

If you’re a government employee, such as a teacher or a central administration employee, your email is likely subject to state open records laws. That means anyone can peek inside your work email if they file such a request. For security, we recommend you email confidential tips from a private account. In extremely sensitive instances, you may consider setting up an entirely new email account to communicate with us.

Other pro tips on being a good source:

  • Let reporters know the best way and time to reach you.
  • If a reporter shares his or her deadline with you, try your best to get back to the reporter beforehand.
  • This might sound like common sense, but don’t make something up. If you don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question, that’s OK. Just tell them.
  • If you’re sending in photos, please make sure they’re as high resolution as possible.
  • Check out these nine additional tips for helping journalists during breaking news events, courtesy of the journalism think-tank Poynter.

Don’t have a news tip but have something important to say? Chalkbeat wants to hear about that too!

While holding the powerful accountable is an important part of Chalkbeat’s mission, it’s only one facet of what we do. Chalkbeat exists to elevate the voices of educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders. We do this through publishing personal essays in a series we call “First Person.”

We’re always on the lookout for compelling pieces for our First Person section. If you’re thinking about submitting a piece, here’s what will make your piece more likely to work for us.

  • Topic: A personal experience that relates to anything we focus on here at Chalkbeat. Don’t just argue your point — tell readers who you are and offer them a story that helps explain why you feel that way. Take a look in our archive for a wealth of examples.
  • Length: 600 to 1,200 words.
  • Process: Send questions or drafts to firstperson@chalkbeat.org. If we think the piece will work for us, we’ll let you know — and probably make some edits and then send it back for you to approve. We’ll also ask you for a high resolution photo and brief bio for the end of the piece. If it won’t work, we’ll do our best to tell you why.

Chalkbeat also features award-winning teachers in a series called “How I Teach.” If you or someone you know has been recognized as an excellent teacher, send an email to aschimke@chalkbeat.org to be considered.

A student at DSST Cole Middle School in Denver raises his hand. Photo by Nic Garcia

Got a question for Chalkbeat?

Send it our way! No question is too big or too small for Chalkbeat reporters to check out for our readers.

Email

Chalkbeat has a general email to collect tips and story ideas from readers: tips@chalkbeat.org.

Each bureau also has its own tips email address:

You can also find individual reporters’ emails on our staff page.

Text and messaging

Chalkbeat is on Signal, the encrypted text messaging app. Our number is 908-827-1494. To ensure your message is encrypted, use the app; do not text directly from your phone.

You can also send a private message to any of our Facebook accounts.

U.S. Postal Service

Snail mail still works — and can be very secure. (Authorities need a warrant to intercept and open mail in transit.) If you’re concerned about security, include your tip and supporting evidence in an envelope without a return address, and drop the package in a sidewalk box, not your neighborhood post office. Do not use your school’s or company’s mailroom.

Our mailing addresses are:

Chalkbeat National, New York, and Newark
1239 Broadway 703B
New York, NY 10001

Chalkbeat Chicago
1132 S Wabash Ave.
Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60605

Chalkbeat Colorado
2900 Welton Street, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80205

Chalkbeat Indiana
719 Virginia Avenue, Suite 101
Indianapolis, IN 46203

Chalkbeat Tennessee
902 Cooper St.
Memphis, TN 38104