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Network News: October 8-14

#NPRedchat a Multi-Million User Success

Last week’s Twitter Education Forum, hosted last week in collaboration with Tell Me More was a huge success. Not only did it provide a platform for a dynamic and diverse conversation about education reform in the US (and one that we plan to continue), but it also reached a whopping 17 million people–and counting. (That’s right. They’re stilll Tweeting. They just can’t stop!)

Tell Me More

Sarah Gonzalez of StateImpact Florida, Michel Martin of Tell Me More and John O'Connor, also of StateImpact Florida, at the October 10 Twitter Education Forum at WLRN studios.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the experience provided a big learning opportunity for everyone involved. Through both the subject matter and the partnership with Tell Me More, we were able to engage diverse communities that we hadn’t before reached. We test drove Scribble, our new and improved live-blogging and social media curation tool that we hope to use again and again. And we learned just how powerful Twitter can be when used for story and source development–instead of simple content distribution.

Sarah Gonzalez of StateImpact Florida tells us that the event allowed her to develop sources both near and far–particularly among teachers, parents and other sometimes hard-to-reach communities.

“They really wanted to engage in conversation,” she said. “We tapped into a Twitter audience that wanted to be part of the conversation instead of just following people who we know are influential.” Continue reading

Network News: October 1-7

Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana

Bessie the Cow

In the Spotlight: Farmer Kyle

StateImpact Indiana reporter Kyle Stokes‘ video explainer on school funding made a splash with audiences across the country last week.

He was perfect: he mastered his subject, presented it clearly and even introduced the newly crowned StateImpact mascot, Bessie the Cow to the world. Thanks, Kyle, for your willingness to explore new storytelling frontiers. We are all better off for it.

Continue reading

Network News: September 24-30

Lessons Learned From Ohio’s Data-Palooza

Test score posts get lots of traffic. All of the time. In all of our education states.

And in almost every other StateImpact state, there is some version of test score data (e.g., gas well data, unemployment figures) that keeps them coming back.

So, we decided that it was time to iron out some rules of the road that might help us all improve the experience of sifting through these massive data dumps. We imagined who might be interested in the data, what they might want to know and how we might be able provide them with it, given the tools we have. What we developed was a series of posts, sortable tables, links and pathways that we think will help users quickly find what they are looking for and interpret what it means–and give reporters some solid resources for future stories.

With the help of data maven and StateImpact Ohio reporter Molly Bloom, here are a few maxims that we landed on:

  • Keep things as simple as possible. If you are dealing with an annual data release, put the name of the year (or years) up front in the title so that readers can easily find what they are looking for.
  • Present only the most crucial information in your sortable table(s). Link out to that bigger data set for further information or, better yet, create other, secondary tables with subsets of the info. Similarly, if the dataset is too large to fit into a filterable table, break it up into smaller chunks (e.g., traditional public vs. charter school)
  • Put short, simple, plain-English definitions for your fields (and any institutional jargon) up top, in bullet points, and make the terms bold. Continue reading

Network News: Florida Wins Award for Innovative Investigative Journalism

We are very pleased to announce that StateImpact Florida is now the official winner of the Gannett Foundation Award for Innovative Investigative Journalism in the small newsroom category. The award went to both WUSF and WLRN-Miami Herald News Public Radio for “No Choice: Florida Charter Schools Failing to Serve Students with Disabilities.”

Becky Lettenberger / NPR StateImpact

The series has all of the hallmarks of a great StateImpact story:

  1. It illustrated the effect of state policy on people’s lives–in this case, some of the most underserved and underrepresented in our communities: children with disabilities. John O’Connor and Sarah Gonzalez‘s multi-platform story brought the people they met into their audience’s lives and made the issues they face real and immediate. 
  2. It was data- and document-driven. The team gathered and analyzed data from 14 school districts representing more than three-quarters of Florida’s total charter school enrollment in order to identify trends and oversights.
  3. It used the unique strengths of multiple platforms intelligently, keeping stats and figures online, in easy-to-access formats and putting some of the best, most human and interesting components in the broadcast piece.
  4. It was an example of the type of watchdog, public service journalism that we strive to produce every day. It questioned the efficacy of popular state policies and investigated whether scarce public resources were being wisely used.
  5. It was a successful, network-building collaboration—in this case, with the Miami Herald, one of the country’s most widely-circulated and well-respected newspapers.

Continue reading

Network News: September 10-16

In the Spotlight: Collaboration Increases Reach

We have high hopes for StateImpact Florida's new partnership with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. Their work has already been featured in outlets across the state.

This week’s top story is part of a hard-hitting series on the country’s largest online education company and was born of a new collaboration between StateImpact Florida and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit, digital bilingual investigative outlet. We’re excited about the work the two teams have already done together and potential the collaboration holds for future endeavors.

FCIR reporter Trevor Aaronson says that the collaboration is part of a growing shift away from a purely competitive to a more collaborative media environment–one that is happening on both the national and the local stage. Larger outlets like ProPublica and NPR have made the shift visible. But the trend is just as salient among smaller, local start-ups like StateImpact and FCIR, which are nimble enough to delve into tips or breaking news with an investigative eye, thereby expanding the breadth and reach of both organizations’ work.

“Between John and me and Scott Finn, we’re able to get the story on WUSF in Tampa, WLRN in Miami and nearly every major newspaper in the state,” he said. “Five years ago that was inconceivable.”

StateImpact Florida’s John O’Connor elaborates:

John O'Connor/ StateImpact Florida

The partnership has two goals: We help bring education expertise to Trevor’s investigative work; and we can get FCIR/StateImpact Florida stories on air across the state in addition to getting stories published by the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, the Lakeland Ledger and the Ocala Star-Banner.

One of the lessons is the value of two small, agile and independent partners. We’ve found newspapers have some institutional inertia against working with us on other stories. They like to have control over the reporting and editing of the story.

Continue reading

Network News: September 3-9

Extreme Makeover: Edition

Remember last week, when you tried to explain StateImpact to friends and family, only to be met with empty stares, furrowed brows and general disdain? Well, friends, those days are over. Now you can explain what you do and why via the new and improved StateImpact hub site, which just underwent a major facelift, thanks do our designer extraordinaire Danny DeBelius.

Our fearless leader, Lynette Clemetson, explains:

Most StateImpact traffic comes straight to the individual state sites. And that’s the way we want it. Our states are building dedicated audiences around issues and topics, and while themes overlap in some areas, the core communities are distinct.

Continue reading

Network News: August 27-September 2

Goodbye, Sweet Summer. Welcome Back, Regular Staffing Levels.

Well, congratulations everyone. We survived summer vacations, evacuations, emergency assignments, cross-country moves and myriad other twists in the plot that left every one of our sites with just one (if that) reporter at some point this summer.

Some of you were able to plan ahead with original content that didn’t go live until you were far, far away. (You know who you are.) Others had vacations interrupted by the occasional, irresistible (or, perhaps, nagging) pull of some timely event or shifting circumstances. (Sorry about that, Susan.) Still others found a way to enlist others, outside of the immediate StateImpact family, to help fill the gaps. (Well played, Gonzalez.)

Remarkably, traffic held steady during that time and, for that, we salute you.

We hope that these coming weeks and months will feel particularly fruitful as we get the band back together again, roll up our sleeves and get back in there, full speed ahead.

StateImpact Last Week’s Reader Faves

Most visited stories last week, in raw numbers:

  1. Pennsylvania: Shale Play (Pennsylvania Fracking Map)
  2. New Hampshire: Drive-Ins Struggle at a Digital Crossroads
  3. Pennsylvania: More Than Three Months Later, Methane Gas Is Still Leaking In Bradford County
  4. Texas: How Hurricane Isaac Could Affect Gulf Drilling and the Texas Coast
  5. Pennsylvania: No Rest for Retirees: Fractivism Becomes a Full-Time Job

Continue reading

Network News: August 20-26

In the Spotlight: Indiana’s Progress Report

Last week, StateImpact Indiana took an aerial view of education in that state during an hour-long back-to-school special that aired at NPR member stations around the state.


Gregg Sloan

Kyle Stokes, who produced the show,  says the exercise allowed him (and listeners) to check back in with students and families who were featured in previous reports. It also allowed him to bring some of the StateImpact flair for explanatory journalism to a different audience.

“Its easier to do the explanatory part of our mission on the blog, but it is more difficult on the air,” he said. “On the air, you always have to talk about the particular story with maybe just a sentence or two about the bigger picture.”

The feature, on the other hand, allowed him to talk about those larger trends and to include some of the voices that, in previous coverage, hadn’t made the final cut. It also allowed he and Elle Moxley, Indiana’s new(er) addition, to take inventory of where they’ve been and where they are going–in terms of coverage and sourcing. Continue reading

Network News: August 13-19

In the Spotlight: Guest Blogging Pays off in Florida

StateImpact Florida was the first state to take our new guest blogging tools, developed last month, for a spin. In their recent series, “The Secret Lives of Students,” the Florida team accepted submissions from area students about issues they selected in a summer learning program. Reporter Sarah Gonzalez describes the team’s experiences with their young guest bloggers below.

From Sarah Gonzalez:

Sarah Gonzalez /StateImpact Florida

Over the summer break, StateImpact Florida partnered up with Breakthrough Miami, which offers summer school classes to students considered “at risk.” We asked the elementary, middle and high school students to write about any school topic they wanted to, as either a short news article or an opinion piece. 

We agreed that StateImpact Florida would edit the articles, but not the opinion pieces. Since we were often hearing from elementary-aged children, we decided not to correct any spelling or grammar. The posts really remained in their voices. We did, however, reserve the right not to post blogs, and to make cuts if something they wrote was factually incorrect about Florida education. 

Continue reading

Network News: July 30 – August 5

In the Spotlight:

Scott Detrow of StateImpact Pennsylvania proved once again this week that while high-tech storytelling tools can help make a story richer, more accessible and more enticing for readers, they can never replace good, ol’ fashioned shoe-leather reporting.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Bradford Co., Pa., resident lights a methane gas sample on fire.

For more than a year, talking heads and industry leaders have been maintaining that methane migration in the course of natural gas drilling is a thing of the past. “Prob­lem iden­ti­fied. Prob­lem solved,” Chesa­peake Energy CEO Aubrey McClen­don declared last year.

But, after reporting in June on a particularly conspicuous leak (a.k.a. geyser), Detrow opted to continue following the story where it led. He shot video of a second, unreported leak nearby, spent some time with the affected family and made some additional calls and visits, eventually publishing a comprehensive, authoritative report on the lingering problem.

The piece was featured in ProPublica’s Muckreads and a news aggregation site for investors (which brought many new eyes to the site). It was also linked to by the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog.

Well played, Mr. Detrow!

Last Week’s Reader Faves

Most visited stories last week, in raw numbers:

  1. Pennsylvania: In Northeast Pennsylvania, Methane Migration Means Flammable Puddles And 30-Foot Geysers
  2. Ohio: Locked Away: How Ohio Schools Misuse Seclusion Rooms        Continue reading