Nan Austin

August 26, 2013

On Campus: Two weeks to refresh, rethink, reboot

Full-out vacation brings wider perspective, resolve to education coverage, as well as realization news waits for no one.

On Campus

The latest on local schools and education

Two weeks away from the daily deadlines and e-mail/online barrage of today’s newsroom can bring humility as well as insight. A vacation to settle my youngest in McDaniel College in Maryland was the first two-week stretch I’d taken since returning to reporting in July 2010.

Some insights gained during two weeks I honored a family pledge to avoid e-mail, not blog and generally focus on them:

First: News stops for no one. My paper arrived each day full of great reporting without my lending so much as a Twitter feed to help. As much as I like to think of myself as critical to the mix, office life does go on.

Second: Bigger topics deserve a kitchen-table angle and dedicated follow through. While away I read other papers’ education news. Much covered the same issues the Bee has already carried, like an overview of common core and the new funding formula. But also I read stories that on my desk got lost in the daily shuffle.

Granted, there’s a lot to shuffle. I cover 28 school districts directly and another 50 or so for regional stories like test results and graduation rates. Stories I’d like to do pile ever higher on my desk, best intentions languishing as fresh information and news events remake plans and the day's schedule.  

But while traveling my husband spotted a couple of national stories he didn't know about and I filled him in – the background, the implications, where we stood locally. It got me thinking -- a dedicated daily reader (OK yes, he has to be – there is a daily spouse quiz), missed out on something because a different take spelled it out better.

A wider view and better prioritizing for those here's-something-to-think-about stories is my back-from-vacation resolution.

Third:  National stories are just local stories that show why it matters to everyone.

I go to conferences for education writers and have met the writers whose bylines grace the biggest papers. Their biggest challenge? Finding teachers, parents and students to talk to.

They need examples to show what a lofty policy change will mean on the ground, but they do not spend time in classrooms to see education in action all that often.

We do that really well at the Bee. Classroom stories balance the boards and the budgets, giving a look at great things kids accomplish and the creative resilience of local teachers no matter who wins the election or what the budget has cut.

Taxpayers need to know what’s going right, too, and I count on superintendents, teachers and parents to let me know great things they're doing and seeing. Not everything mentioned gets covered, but I try to fit it in somewhere.  

My next resolution is to bring that why-it-matters bigger picture to more stories.

And finally, I resolve to get through my e-mail pile today. I can do that because, remarkably, while 60-80 e-mails generally pour in every day, after 14 days I have only 302 in my in-basket.

Either new math adds in a completely different way, or a technology thunderbolt has struck again. Ahhh, the vacation recovery period begins.

This week I also start training on our new software system and new computers to make the Bee more tablet and mobile-app friendly.

For me, it should mean web pages load faster, big databases don't hang up and remote story filing won't take hauling around a 20-pound dinosaur with a two-hour charge. For readers, it should mean easier access and more real-time stories and updates. 

It's a new day in the newsroom. Technology, like news, waits for no one.



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