In 2008, in one of my first full-time jobs as a reporter at the New York Sun, I stood with a newsroom full of reporters while our editor told us our newspaper had one month to rally or fold. This was at the height of the financial crisis.
The first thing I thought about was the readers who relied on that newspaper to devote deeper coverage to public education and the dramatic changes it was undergoing. I was lucky not to have to worry too much about myself: I was 24 years old and colleagues at other papers were generously stepping up to help me find another job.
I also started to worry about newspapers beyond New York City. The rules of public schools were being rewritten all across the country. We needed reporters to cover that. Eleven years later, I can see that I was right to worry. Sadly, I wasn’t worried enough. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of newsroom employees at U.S. newspapers declined by 47%.
Meanwhile, with fewer reporters watching, the education world was going through dramatic change. Education philanthropy with lofty and also aggressive ambitions exceeded $58 billion annually. Teachers across America saw major changes in how they are evaluated. Nineteen cities tipped from “what is a charter school?” to more than 30% charter enrollment.
The colliding trend lines were not healthy for democracy. In our schools and beyond, we got the polarization, fear-mongering, and mistrust that we’ve now learned is inevitable when high-quality news is not available. But one development was good: Reporters, readers, and citizens refused to accept the new status quo.
In the same year that the New York Sun folded, I joined the founding team at GothamSchools, the New York precursor to Chalkbeat. Since then, GothamSchools merged with Ed News Colorado in 2013, and has grown into the Chalkbeat you know today. As we explain in our new Chalkbeat 2025 plan, in the past six years, 1,300 donors, 1 million readers, and 200+ sponsors have come together with our amazing team to create the careful, caring journalism public education deserves.
Our readers know why that matters. It’s because we are able to do everything from the day-in, day-out stories that you tell us every year are essential reading for you to understand your local school districts and beyond to more in-depth projects like, just this month, Ready or Not, our series this month, in which our reporters in Detroit and Newark are following students who desperately hope to become the first in their families to graduate college.
Public education is a $700 billion enterprise, with 10 million employees and 70 million students. Investors in any business of that size would demand independent reporting to hold the business accountable. The investors in public education are all of us. We need to continue to demand better.
At Chalkbeat, we are ready. We have spent the last eight months plotting out our course for the future. Our plan: By 2025, we will grow from seven bureaus to 18, accelerating the pace of our expansion to three new bureaus a year (to date, we have launched one every 18 months). We will expand our breadth of coverage, adding stories from swaths of America beyond our founding bureaus. By growing, we will serve more local communities while telling a powerful national story of how public education is being reconceived and remade across America.
I hope you will read the full plan here: Chalkbeat 2025: A Five-Year Plan to Build the News Our Democracy Demands. No one is more important to this plan than our readers, and as always, we want to know what you think.