Coverage of education is vital to a healthy community. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic—which created a large disruption in the education system and the lives of thousands of students and parents—it is more important than ever. As a result, the Dallas Morning News’ newly launched Education Lab comes at a critical time.
The community funded journalism initiative will cover important issues in education and deepen the conversations the newspaper has with students, parents and educators. It is supported by The Communities Foundation of Texas, The Meadows Foundation, The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, The Solutions Journalism Network, The Dallas Foundation, Southern Methodist University and The Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. In addition, people can support the lab by donating to the Local Media Foundation’s campaign supporting the newspaper’s effort.
Nearly a year and a half ago, Thomas Huang, the Morning News’ assistant managing editor for journalism initiatives, began to research community founded journalism and spent time with the Seattle Times to understand how their Labs worked (the Times launched its Education Lab in 2013). Huang stressed the importance of having editorial independence while operating the community funded Lab, which is something the Times shared with him.
“Part of the model is finding community support for our most important public service journalism,” Huang said. “So, I talked with community stakeholders, senior editors, people in the newsroom, and it really became clear that education coverage was really at the top of the list of priorities.”
The Lab launched in September and currently consists of editor Eva-Marie Ayala; reporters Corbett Smith, Talia Richman and Emily Donaldson; and intern Nicolette White. Valeria Olivares will also join the team this month on a two-year fellowship.
The goal is to publish two in-depth stories a week; however, Ayala said that it depends on the needs of the day. Readers can find the Lab’s content in the print edition as well as online at dallasnews.com/news/education. In addition, it has a Facebook page and will soon begin publishing a weekly newsletter.
According to Ayala, the Lab will report on pressing issues such as how the pandemic is affecting students’ access to opportunities; how well schools are preparing tomorrow’s workforce or college-bound students; and how state funding challenges are affecting local classrooms. Huang also added that the Lab will publish solutions-oriented stories.
To help shape coverage, the Lab also intends to regularly engage with the community, including students, parents and teachers, to learn what issues and challenges they are facing. At press time, the Morning News had already hosted one virtual event with about 50 participants. The Lab will continue to host virtual discussions until it is safe to meet with the community in person.
“If we don’t get education right, that not only impacts the child but a whole generation of a family and community. It impacts what businesses want to come to town and growth in (a) neighborhood,” Ayala said. “There’s no beat more important at any paper than education.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated.