Children’s Express News Agency, Deep in Debt, Verges on Collapse

By Catherine Gewertz — August 08, 2001 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For 26 years, a small army of school-age journalists has been fanning out in cities and suburbs with notepads and microphones, asking questions about things they rarely see in grown-up papers and news shows: things important to kids. Now, the news service that dispatched them is on the brink of collapse.

The nonprofit Children’s Express laid off nearly all its staff in late June after the award-winning news agency’s board found itself $2.4 million in debt. As August began, the only paid employees were a receptionist and an accountant in the Washington headquarters. But many of its 750 unpaid reporters, ages 8 to 13, were still chasing stories.

Grown-ups were trying to keep the offices afloat. Linda Remsburg, the bureau director of the Marquette, Mich., office, said she hoped the office could stay open as a program of the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, which provides the bureau’s space.

While that possibility was being discussed, Children’s Express was allowed to stay on to solicit funding. In the meantime, its reporters were hard at work on stories about dyslexia, stepfamilies, and the acne medicine Acutane.

In New York City, bureau director Katina Paron was working without pay for a fifth week. As her reporters worked on a story about children without religion, Ms. Paron, 27, was packing because the office was slated to close Aug. 1. Between boxes, she talked with representatives of foundations and local service agencies about getting money and space to keep operating. There was “a lot of interest,” she said, but no commitments yet.

“They told us to close the doors and walk away [in June],” she said. “But I just couldn’t do it. The organization is too important. The kids need this. The world needs this. People don’t listen to kids, and this organization gets a youth perspective into adult media.

“And now it’s ending because some adults made some bad decisions. It’s not fair to the kids.”

Caught by Surprise

The vice chairman of the Children’s Express board of directors, Ed Jones Jr., meanwhile was leading a board examination of the last few years’ operations, trying to ascertain how the news agency had gotten into such debt. He said the problems appeared to stem from ill-advised financial decisions and a lack of accounting.

Foundations, led by W.K. Kellogg, provided the bulk of the organization’s annual $1 million to $2 million budget. Mr. Jones said he would comply with their request for an accounting of how the money was spent.

In 1996, the board hired Eric Graham as president to replace founder Robert Clampitt, who had died. Mr. Graham attempted to expand the organization, boosting spending and opening a Tokyo bureau that has since closed. Like the rest of the staff, Mr. Graham was laid off in June, Mr. Jones said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, one that has caught the board by surprise, and it’s a situation we hope to find a smooth and graceful exit for,” Mr. Jones said last week.

Mr. Clampitt founded the agency in 1975 and fueled the organization’s vision for some 20 years. Its stories appeared in major newspapers, on radio and television shows, and, more recently, online. The news service scored a major coup at the 1976 Democratic National Convention when a 12-year-old reporter scooped the mainstream media by reporting Jimmy Carter’s choice of Walter F. Mondale as his running mate.

The service won the prestigious Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism in 1994 for a piece on homeless teenagers that was broadcast on National Public Radio. It won an Emmy Award in 1988 for a public-television report on the presidential race.

A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2001 edition of Education Week as Children’s Express News Agency, Deep in Debt, Verges on Collapse


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: February 7, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: January 31, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: January 17, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education In Their Own Words The Stories That Stuck With Us, 2023 Edition
Our newsroom selected five stories as among the highlights of our work. Here's why.
4 min read
102523 IMSE Reading BS
Adria Malcolm for Education Week