Chalkbeat is the new brand identity for a network of education news sites in four U.S. cities.
Two of the sites are well-established and joined forces last year: GothamSchools and EdNews Colorado. The other two are new ventures opening in Indianapolis and Memphis. All four will fall under the new Chalkbeat banner.
"We really love our original brands, and they have a loyal following," Elizabeth Green, a co-founder of GothamSchools, said in an interview. "But there is power in numbers. It really made sense that we should all have one name."
Green is based in New York City and is executive editor of the larger Chalkbeat organization, which until this week was known as the Education News Network. GothamSchools and EdNews Colorado joined together earlier this year to form the network.
"We decided to merge because its hard to build a sustainable business around journalism," said Green, who covered the New York City schools for the now-defunct New York Sun newspaper and worked for U.S. News & World Report magazine. "Each of us was struggling with how to invest in the things we need for the long term."
Alan Gottlieb, the publisher of the Chalkbeat sites, said in an interview that independent education news sites such as EdNews Colorado, which he helped evolve out of a small magazine, are filling a void left by cutbacks in newspapers and other traditional news media.
"We're fairly small outlets, but look at what has happend to local newspapers staffs in many cities," he said. "The Denver Post has one education reporter. Just having a staff of a bureau chief, three full-time reporters, and one half-time reporter, [EdNews Colorado is] a lot bigger than The Denver Post."
Gottlieb was a reporter for the Denver paper from 1988 to 1997, where he covered social issues and eventually the Denver public schools for two years before leaving. He is still based in Denver.
Both sites regularly break news and do enterprising work. GothamSchools earlier this month reported on a New York City charter school network's plan to offer families cash rewards for referring and attracting new students, which drew a rebuke from the school system's chancellor. EdNews Colorado last month reported on a struggling online charter school's efforts to be judged based on a lower bar for student performance.
New Cities, New Sites
Now, Education News Network—make that Chalkbeat—is expanding to Indianapolis and Memphis. The organization hired education reporter Scott Elliott from The Indianapolis Star to run Chalkbeat Indiana. Meanwhile, Chalkbeat Tennessee will also have a reporter in the state capital, Nashville. Both new sites had soft launches this week.
(Education Week reporter Jackie Zubrzycki is leaving to join the Memphis site next week. Also, as a matter of disclosure, EdNews Colorado has been a regional content partner to Edweek.org.)
Green and Gottlieb said their organization decided on states where there was a lot going on in terms of education policy and where there was local foundation support to launch the new Chalkbeat sites.
The merged Chalkbeat is awaiting federal approval of its non-profit organization status. It is currently housed under another Colorado non-profit that serves as the recipient of its grant funding and handles functions such as human resources.
Like Education Week, Chalkbeat receives grant funding from entities that include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, which leads to criticism from some quarters. Green and Gottlieb say Chalkbeat has complete editorial independence.
As soon as consultants finish revamping the organization's Web sites, likely before the end of the year, GothamSchools will become Chalkbeat New York, while EdNews Colorado will become Chalkbeat Colorado. Green said the consultants have told them that readers will accept the change of identity pretty quickly.
Gottlieb said a further expansion to additional cities is a goal, but won't happen right away.
"We want to be cautious on our expansion pace," he said. "We want to do these sites well."