February 4, 2008

Education Writers Association creates new service for newsrooms; Linda Perlstein takes first position


Perlstein was selected out of a highly competitive field of 40 applicants and six finalists. As the public editor she will coach individual reporters, help them with education sources and experts, and coordinate with their editors to assure that her work complements what they are doing. She also will be responsible for writing a regular column and monitoring the state of education coverage in newsrooms across the country.

"We’re delighted that a journalist of Linda’s caliber will bring her in-depth knowledge of education, her journalistic skills and her experience at the Post to the assistance of news rooms across the country," said Executive Director Lisa Walker. "The response to this position, by reporters who will use it and by outstanding journalists who applied, tells us it’s a really needed service."

EWA created the job to serve newsrooms and reporters as the news industry has faced declining circulations and shrinking reporting and editing staffs. As a result, many education teams have been disbanded and editors have less time to spend with reporters. Many journalists said that these circumstances made it apparent a need was developing that EWA could fill.

"We listened to what reporters were telling us -- that not only have education staffs shrunk but in many cases reporters are working with editors who have no experience dealing with education issues," said Richard Whitmire, USA Today editorial writer and president of the EWA Board of Directors. "We know the EWA Public Editor can lend a hand."

The job is funded by Lumina Foundation for Education, the Spencer Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Joyce Foundation and a pending Carnegie Corporation of New York grant.

Perlstein spent much of her reporting career at the Washington Post before leaving to write two books. The first, Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers, is based on an award-winning series she wrote about the lives of middle school students. The second, Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, looks at the impact of testing on the classroom.

Her experience ranges from serving as a coxswain for the Wesleyan University Men's Crew to working as a graphics editor at the Washington Post before turning to reporting. Since leaving the Post, Perlstein has freelanced, writing op-eds and articles for publications ranging from the Post to Salon.com and the Baltimore Sun.

"I’m very excited about this adventure, which is really a whole new kind of position for journalism, in the field of education or any other beat," Perlstein said. "This is exactly the kind of help I would have welcomed when I was at the newspaper."

Perlstein starts February 5, 2008 and will be available for coaching and sourcing advice by phone, email and in person shortly thereafter.

The National Education Writers Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the national non-profit training organization for reporters, editors, producers and freelancers that report and write about the nation’s schools, colleges and early childhood programs. It runs training seminars and workshops across the country on education issues and reporting skills, supports reporters and writers through its website  http://www.ewa.org,  publications and its listservs, and assists the profession in raising the quality of education reporting and editing.