January 22, 2010

Press release

National Education Writers Association Announces New Direction

As seismic shifts in the media industry threaten the quality and quantity of education reporting, the 63-year-old Education Writers Association (EWA) today announced a new strategic direction to uphold the highest standards of journalism.

“More than ever, America needs sharp, sophisticated and well-informed journalists covering education,” said EWA Board President Dale Mezzacappa, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We must do all that we can to create a climate where good education reporting is possible.”

Under the new plan, EWA will immediately shift from a traditional membership organization to an open community, embracing a wider net of people concerned about the quality of education information. The organization will create 21st century mechanisms for supporting traditional writers in real time while adopting creative advocacy on behalf of first-rate sustainable journalism.

The new direction comes after a lengthy strategic planning process that involved hundreds of surveys and interviews with leaders in education and journalism. Consultants received feedback from dozens of past and present EWA members and conducted an extensive review of industry research.

This investigation found a pressing demand for increased support to reporters in the field and the need for creative thinking to ensure the future of the profession.

In the changing media landscape, newsroom staffing on education beats continues to shrink. Reporters beats have broadened, imperiling nuanced, knowledgeable, in-depth coverage. The very definition of “education writer” is a moving target in a multimedia, blogospheric world.

Against this challenging backdrop, the need for quality education reporting stands at an all-time high. A recent Brookings Institution report found that education stories now comprise 1.4 percent of all national news — even as a new president has made education policy a top priority. The federal education budget doubled practically overnight, while states continue to slash education spending and college students face skyrocketing tuition.

“At no other time has there been a greater need for an organization like EWA,” said Richard Whitmire, immediate past president of the EWA board and former editorial writer for USA Today. “Our aim is to improve not only the quantity of education coverage, but the quality as well.”

EWA will pursue its new strategy amid a leadership change. After growing the organization into what it is today and playing a key role in developing the new model, Executive Director Lisa Walker will step down in June after 24 years at the helm. The search for a new executive director commences today.

EWA’s new plan calls for:

* Moving from a closed membership organization to a more inclusive, online-based community focused on education media, but open to anyone interested in education. Community members will include journalists, policymakers, educators, academics, and others with a connection to education issues.

* Becoming a voice for quality education coverage.

* Creating an accessible online resource/research database that will house articles, research reports, source lists, and other information related to education issues.

* Establishing an expert panel to summarize the academic debates, highlight key research, and evaluate new research in the field as it is being released.

* Continuing the annual national gathering to provide members an opportunity to connect with thought leaders and each other.

* Expanding the role of Public Editor to provide not only one-on-one, customized support but also lessons that will help a broader array of writers.

The new executive director, who is slated to come on board in the spring, will be responsible for fleshing out and implementing the new strategic direction. Besides being an active advocate for quality education reporting, the new executive director will be responsible for crafting and rigorously upholding a set of ethical guidelines and standards for the education journalism industry.

A job posting for this position was released today. Lisa Walker’s years of leadership, innovation and service to the organization will be honored at this year’s annual gathering in May 13-15 in San Francisco, where it is also hoped the new executive will be introduced.

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From 1999 to 2011, Jim Romenesko maintained the Romenesko page for the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based non-profit school for journalists. Poynter hired him in August…
Jim Romenesko

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