August 7 — 1:15 pm, 2009

The Notebook and the shifting media landscape

paulcovers Photo: Harvey Finkle

The media landscape of Philadelphia is the subject of an August 9 New York Times Magazine article. Notebook editor Paul Socolar is described as "something like the journalist of the future." The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has been on the cutting edge throughout its history.

Fifteen years ago, a group of concerned parents, teachers, and community members founded the Notebook to be a resource and voice for people working for equality and quality in Philadelphia’s troubled public school system. These pioneers saw a void in the local media landscape and filled it with a free quarterly newspaper, raising money from individuals and foundations and maintaining high journalistic standards while pursuing a mission of educational change.

The Notebook remains true to its mission of building a greater public will to push for improvements in public education. Its coverage has challenged passive acceptance of privatization initiaitives; highlighted effective movements for parent involvement, teacher effectiveness, and student activism; and given voice to traditionally marginalized communities and issues. Among the highlights of the Notebook’s history was its work during the state takeover.

The evolution of journalism has forced the Notebook to explore how to remain both competitive, nimble, and fiscally viable. Today, still with the same mission and goals, the Notebook has evolved into a multimedia news service, serving as a model for the kind of nonprofit, specialized journalism that is likely to play an ever bigger role in coming years.

It has a daily blog featuring commentary from local educational leaders, an e-newsletter, and starting this academic year, five editions of the paper and a fall guide. The Notebook operates as a nonprofit project of the New Beginnings Program of Resources for Human Development, Inc., which provides office space, support, and financial services.

From a group of committed volunteers, it has grown to include a paid staff of five, several freelancers and consultants, and two volunteer boards. It continues to rely  heavily on volunteers as well as a cadre of interns from colleges in and around Philadelphia. It also promotes educational opportunity by sponsoring a journalism contest for Philadelphia high school students.

As for-profit daily newspapers struggle to find a new business model and many close, the the Notebook has been fortunate to experience some growth, while continuing to experiment with and refine a nonprofit business model that may become more common in the future.

Since embarking on a three-year strategic plan in 2008 it has added two staff positions, introduced new departments in the paper, redesigned its Web site, launched a membership program, and garnered major support from national and local foundations,  including Knight and William Penn. It has partnered with other urban education publications while becoming the go-to place in Philadelphia for comprehensive education news, commentary, and informed discussion. Its extensive archives are free and a favorite source for researchers seeking reliable, thorough information.

The printed newspaper is circulated to 57,000 people and the Web site and e-newsletter reach thousands more. These endeavors are sustained by a combination of foundation grants, advertising, and individual donations. You can help support our efforts by commenting on an article, becoming a user on the site, becoming a member of the Notebook, or donating. Your involvement and support will ensure that this vital coverage of schools and this innovative business model can continue.

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