New Rules: Making This Site Better

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Six months into The Grade, I’m making some changes that I think will make the site more interesting, engaging, and nuanced.

First and foremost, I’m going to start reaching out to reporters and editors I’m writing about earlier on in the writing process, hoping that they (and the subjects of their stories that I’m also writing about) will respond in time for me to include their thoughts (and correct any misapprehensions on my part). 

That’s what I did this morning, when I emailed a handful of folks who’d written about the Obama test reduction plan and asked them whether they knew that the Great City Schools were opposed and how they decided to address that dynamic or not.

Folks responded within an hour or so, and the result was a much-improved effort. I hadn’t seen Lauren Camera’s US News piece, for example. And I didn’t know that the CCSSO was also opposed to the Obama plan. (See the resulting post here: Opposition Underplayed In Last Week’s Test Reduction Coverage.)

It’s not natural to me to send these emails or make these calls, coming from blogging rather than traditional journalism. My usual practice has long been to write an initial piece based on whatever I could find online, then sending it out to folks for comment. I did this partly for speed, partly because I’m antisocial/phonephobic, and partly out of knowing that whatever response I get afterwards could be used in a followup entry, in comments, etc.  (Early on in particular, nobody important was likely to respond to any requests for feedback, anyway.)

But the reality is that most folks are happy to talk with me if they can, I don’t always write a followup, and it’s been distracting to journalists in particular to have me ask to share their thoughts about something that’s already published.

Most of all, I’m finding that it’s fascinating and helpful to find out how reporters and editors are feeling about the stories that they’ve written, and one of the main things I have enjoyed doing with this site is learning about how journalists think and write. Asking for a response earlier in the process will push me to get more of their experiences into my writing, and give reporters and editors even more of a reason to tell me their side of the story.  

Tell me what you think. Meantime, write back or return my call if I reach out to you about something you’ve written. I’d love to know what you think. 

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.