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L.A. Confidential: New Editor for Scrappy Education News Site

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The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school system, gets a lot of media coverage. The Los Angeles Times, the smaller L.A. Daily News, the Spanish-language La OpiniĆ³n, and the city's numerous TV and radio outlets all have regular reports.

A much smaller but feistier online publication also covers the system and its politics. The LA School Report is entering its second year in existence, and it has a new editor, Michael Janofsky, a former long-time New York Times reporter. He took over in July after the departure of Alexander Russo, who is also the author of the trenchant This Week in Education blog.

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Russo, who was working on the side as the editor of LA School Report, very publicly detailed his departure in a post on his This Week in Education site.

In the post, Russo said he approached LA School Report founder Jamie Alter Lynton about hiring a locally based news editor for the site while he continued as editor from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives. Finding a news editor to handle day-to-day story assignments would bolster the site and allow Russo to spend more time writing commentary and do fundraising to help the site grow, he said in the July 26 post.

"Lynton embraced the idea at first but then decided she didn't want me to have any editorial/ management role over the site going forward," Russo said in the post. "Despite repeated negotiations and attempts at compromise, we parted ways over whether this was wise or appropriate."

In a subsequent interview, Russo said, "Where we parted ways was what my role would be heading into Year 2. [Lynton] thought there should be someone locally assigning and editing stories, and that I would do commentary and analysis. She wanted me to do that as a contributing editor. I wanted to be editor-in-chief or some more senior role."

"It was a role/title/organization chart kind of dispute," Russo said.

Lynton, a former TV reporter and producer for CBS, CNN, and Court TV, said in an interview that "we're looking to make this site the go-to place for news and information about [Los Angeles] schools, and what we need is a news team."

"I want it to be a news site, not a blog," she said. "We've definitely helped move stories forward."

Janofsky, a 26-year veteran of The New York Times, had been a freelance writer since leaving the paper in 2006. He has written a lot of speeches and white papers since then, but he also was the ghostwriter for a crown-prince-in-exile of the United Arab Emirates. He knew Lynton through mutual friends and was talked into coming to work for the LA School Report, briefly overlapping with Russo.

"One of my mandates is to create staff," Janofsky said. "We're in the process now of finding some people to be contributors and to build it out as best we can."

Right now, that staff is small—a full-time reporter and a stable of freelancers. Still, the scrappy site has sometimes scooped the Los Angeles Times. It tends to focus more on the politics of the school system.

The online site marked the beginning of the school year with a two-part interview with L.A. Unified Superintendent John E. Deasy, who discussed the challenge of implementing the Common Core State Standards in the district, testy relations with teachers, a pilot program giving iPads to students at 50 schools, and his personal reading list.

More recently, the site carried an interview with filmmaker Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for 'Superman'"), whose new documentary focused on a Los Angeles teacher, among others. It also covered an L.A. speaking engagement by school reformer Michelle Rhee. And it had lots more coverage of Deasy.

"LA is a great story," Janofsky said. "Aside from being the second-biggest city in the country, it's the second-biggest school district. There is an enormous number of ethnic groups. There are all different flavors of public school. It's contentious, it's colorful. From a journalist's perspective, you couldn't ask for better."

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