There’s no shortage of smart, hard-working journalists in Chicago, including several education reporters and editors.

So it’s nice to see so many of them honored for their work last week — even if some of the pieces have been problematic for me and a handful of others.

The Chicago Daily Herald was honored with 10 Lisagor awards, for among other things “Generations At Risk” a four-day series that highlighted the undeniable relationship between student poverty and achievement in Illinois schools.

Given the top honor in education, the project was reported by Melissa Silverberg, Tim Broderick, Renee Trappe and Linda Lutton of WBEZ. Editorials that accompanied the series were also honored with the Best Editorial Writing award.

As readers may recall, there was some controversy over the series when it came out, most of it focused on the concern that it overstated the role of poverty (if such a thing is possible) and ignored some of the successes of the Chicago school system despite intense poverty. You can read all about them here: Chicago Series Highlights Tensions, Tradeoffs and here Extended Debate Over Chicago Poverty Series.

Pink dots above the line show Chicago schools doing better than expected.

As I noted at the time, “In the end, the controversy may be about emphasis and balance more than anything else.  Should the series have focused on the correlation between poverty and lower student achievement over all, or on the exceptions to the rule. Should the focus have been on the statewide trends or on Chicago’s relative success?”

Former Tribune and Wall Street Journal reporter Stephanie Banchero, now at the Joyce Foundation, penned a piece about Chicago education reporters’ “Fascination With Failure,” chiding her former colleagues for ignoring successes and progress being made in schools to focus on dramatic, outrage-inducing failures (of which there is no shortage).  Are readers well served by stories looking deeply at problems with the way Chicago schools count graduates at some alternative schools if the citywide progress on graduating more students is left out or diminished in the coverage?

The investigative coverage — looking into contracting flaws that led to the former superintendent’s departure, or the UNO charter schools founder — is extremely strong. The storytelling — WBEZ’s Linda Lutton walking around looking for truant kids — is also notable. The enterprise reporting — the Daily Herald?WBEZ poverty series, the WBEZ/Catalyst graduation rate series — seems relatively weak. It will be interesting to see how Lutton’s much-anticipated Spencer Journalism Fellowship project takes shape.

Other Chicago education media honorees:

Sarah Karp and Becky Vevea, Catalyst Chicago/WBEZ FM, won for “New alternative schools: questionable quality and numbers”

Lauren FitzPatrick and Dan Mihalopoulos, Chicago Sun-Times, won for their coverage of “The downfall of Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett”

class=”entry-content”>Meribah Knight and Cassie Walker-Burke, Crain’s Chicago Business, won for “Five Big Ideas for Chicago’s Trouble Schools”

class=”entry-content”>Catalyst Chicago founder received a lifetime achievement award.

See the full list at the Chicago Headline Club | Protecting the Public’s Right to Know.

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.