Full Text:COPYRIGHT 2009 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Byline: Christopher K. Hepp
Jan. 21--For a cutting-edge news operation, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook looks decidedly, well, old school. Its newsroom is the typical warren of cluttered desks, stacked files, and the day-to-day detritus of reporting. The Notebook itself is a standard-looking tabloid-size print publication, about 45 percent ads, 55 percent stories and photographs.
As an old newspaperman, John S. Knight would have appreciated it immediately. And it is a good bet he would have understood why the foundation that bears his name approved a $200,000 grant to help the Notebook expand its independent, single-minded coverage of the Philadelphia School District. Knight, founder of the now-defunct Knight Ridder Inc. newspaper chain, made a fortune in newspapers. He left much of that fortune to the Knight Foundation. With the newspaper industry in turmoil, Knight last year launched a $24 million initiative to "support creative ways to use new media and technology to keep communities engaged."
In other words, as traditional news outlets struggle with increasingly smaller staffs, the Knight Foundation is funding new, alternative ways for local communities to be kept informed. The Notebook's application was championed by the William Penn Foundation, which has financed the paper for several years. The Notebook was among 21 groups awarded grants last week by the Knight Foundation. Among others was an online news site for a Connecticut community that had lost its newspaper, and a Berks County public television station that wants to start an online "community hub." The $200,000 for the Notebook means Paul Socolar, the editor in chief, will have a budget of about $600,000 for the coming fiscal year. He will be able to increase his staff from four to six, publish monthly instead of quarterly, and expand the Web site (www.thenotebook.org) The paper is free, its costs covered by advertising revenue (about $100,000), grants and individual donors. "In the Notebook, we found what we were looking for: a real effective print tool that is trying to get itself to the next level," said Matt Bergheiser, the Knight Foundation's regional program director for Philadelphia. The attraction of the Notebook is its intense coverage of Philadelphia's public schools, which make up the state's largest and most troubled district. The current 32-page issue leads with a cover story on School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's plans to address the relatively poor performance of many black and Latino students. It is written by Dale Mezzacappa, a well-respected education reporter who worked for The Inquirer before becoming a contributing editor for the Notebook. Although the Notebook strives for balance in its coverage, Socolar said there was no mistaking that it has been an unabashed advocate for change in the district.
"It is not neutral or distant," he said of the coverage. "We approach the problems of the district with a passion." It was that passion that led Socolar and other concerned parents and teachers to start the publication in 1994. At the time, Socolar, now 53, had two children attending the C.W. Henry Elementary School in Mount Airy. He became the Notebook's editor in 1999. What was once a fledgling handout that staff members distributed at school playgrounds has grown to 57,000 circulation publication that can be found in school offices, free libraries and other places parents, teachers and students might congregate.
Despite its still relatively small reach, the paper demands its fair share of respect from the district, Socolar said. "We don't have quite the same weight of other, larger organizations," he said, "but we try to make up for it by being pushy." Phil Goldsmith, who was chief executive officer for the district and has written for the Notebook, is a firm supporter of the paper and its mission. Like the Knight Foundation, he sees it as an essential community voice.
"With what has been happening in the general media with resources being cut, the Notebook is critical to the public schools," he said. "I shudder to think what would happen if it wasn't around."
Contact staff writer Christopher K. Hepp at 215-854-2208 or email@example.com.
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Gale Document Number:CJ192411465
"Foundation backs Philadelphia schools publication. " Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). (Jan 21, 2009): NA. General OneFile. Gale. Free Library of Philadelphia. 5 Aug. 2009
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2009 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Speaking of education advocates, congratulations to the Notebook, the one-time handout turned tabloid newspaper that has kept a close watch on the School District of Philadelphia since 1994. The 57,000-circulation newspaper recently received a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation that will allow it to hire more staff, publish more frequently and expand its Web site. The grant follows in the strong journalism tradition of John S. Knight, founder of the Knight Ridder Inc. newspaper chain, which used to own The Inquirer and Daily News. The foundation is pushing to "support creative ways to use new media and technology to keep communities engaged." There's no better example of that ethos than the Notebook, which started as a grass-roots effort by district parents and has blossomed into an effective watchdog striving to hold schools and administrators accountable.