School & District Management

Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton

By Mark Walsh — July 19, 2016 6 min read
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Education Week and its nonprofit parent corporation are starting a new chapter as the newspaper nears its 35th anniversary.

Virginia B. Edwards, the editor of Education Week since 1989 and the president of Editorial Projects in Education Inc. since 1997, will step down this month.

Edwards led the transformation of an independent print-only newspaper focused on pre-K-12 education into a force in web news, education research and events, and, most recently, video journalism.

“While it was a tough decision to leave the best job I could ever imagine, it feels like the right time to move on,” Edwards, 60, said in an open letter last month.

She will be succeeded as the president and chief executive officer of EPE by Michele J. Givens, the publisher and general manager of the Bethesda, Md.-based organization. The change takes effect Aug. 1.

“I think Michele Givens is a rock star,” Edwards said in an interview. “We’ve worked together for 15 years, shoulder to shoulder. It has been an incredible partnership.”

‘Very Solid Position’

Givens, who will not assume an editor’s title at Education Week, said in an interview: “We have an incredibly strong bench of editorial leadership here. And we have an incredible team of journalists here who will all keep doing what they’re doing.”

Virginia B. Edwards Education Week’s editor, who is also president of its nonprofit parent corporation, will step down later this month.

“We are in a very solid position today, fiscally and in terms of the strength of the products and the vibrancy of the products,” Givens added. “But there should be no doubt that the pace of change will not subside. I’ve been frank in saying to people internally and externally that you have to bring at least a little bit of paranoia to managing a media organization these days.”

Christopher Curran, the board chairman of EPE and a managing partner of Tyton Partners, an investment-banking and strategy-consulting firm, said in a statement that Edwards “has worked tirelessly and effectively to evolve EdWeek over the years from a print-only publication to a 24/7 digital news operation. At a time when many news organizations have struggled to sustain their audiences, and even their businesses, Education Week is a success story.”

Education Week, published 37 times a year, is read by more than 100,000 subscribers and “pass-along” readers. Its editions include three annual reports: Quality Counts (on state education policy), Technology Counts (on education technology), and Leaders To Learn From (on exemplary school district leadership). Data for the widely cited Quality Counts and other special projects are gathered and analyzed by the Education Week Research Center.

A milestone of Edwards’ tenure was the launch of edweek.org in 1996. The website now has more than 1.6 million registered users, and Education Week also has hundreds of thousands of subscribers to its email newsletters. And last year, EPE launched its Education Week Video unit to produce segments for the PBS NewsHour and other broadcast partners, as well as digital video and other multimedia content for edweek.org and other platforms.

Not Missing a Beat

Ronald A. Wolk, the founding editor of Education Week and former president of EPE, recalled in an interview first hiring Edwards for a temporary stint managing the newspaper in 1986-87.

“Ginny did more than just fill in,” Wolk said. “She took charge. Education Week didn’t miss a beat.”

When Education Week co-founder Martha K. Matzke left the organization in 1989, Wolk turned to Edwards—then with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching—to lead the paper.

Wolk said Edwards, who for nearly 10 years earlier in her career had been an editor and reporter at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., was a strong editor. Within a few years, the two were able to work out a transition plan so Wolk could retire and Edwards could gain more organizational and fundraising experience to become the president of Editorial Projects in Education.

“Within three years, she was doing everything at least as well as or better than I was doing it, so I knew I could leave,” said Wolk, who is now the chair emeritus of the EPE board of trustees.

Sheppard Ranbom, who had been a reporter for Education Week in the early 1980s, met Edwards through Wolk after Ranbom became a public relations professional focusing on education. He said they became friends in part because Wolk was a mentor to both of them.

“I think what drives Ginny is that she has a passion for the newspaper business,” said Ranbom, the president of CommunicationWorks, in Washington. “She recognized the trends early on, such as the online threat to newspapers. She acted really quickly to move Education Week online, and to make online a profit center at a time when much larger newspapers had no clue what to do.”

Edwards “has a no-nonsense, unassuming, real-person demeanor,” Ranbom said. “She doesn’t hide how she feels about things. But she has an even keel about it.”

Joshua Benton, the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, a think tank founded to help the field figure out its future in the internet age, offered some perspective on changes in education journalism in recent decades, a period during which Edwards helmed Education Week. He noted that education reporting was once “extremely localized.”

“There was a strong connection between a local newsroom and a local school district,” said Benton, who was an award-winning education beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News. Education Week, which launched in September 1981, was initially successful by covering the field at the national level, he added.

In a now more-crowded media landscape that includes many online-only education outlets, he said, “what Education Week has that is most valuable is a direct relationship with its readers, and a very defined audience that is of interest to advertisers.”

“I’d rather be in [Education Week‘s] shoes than in the shoes of a middling, mid-market daily newspaper these days,” Benton said. “What matters more today is having passionate readers who care about what you do, and advertisers who want to reach your audience. If you don’t have that, you get dumped into an undifferentiated pile of internet content.”

Steven Drummond, a former Education Week deputy managing editor who left to join NPR, where he oversees education coverage, said it is remarkable that Education Week has steadfastly maintained its non-partisan approach.

“It’s a field that is so predictably political, and Education Week has tried hard to focus on research and fact and journalistic reporting,” Drummond said. “That’s why it has maintained such a prominent role in the debate, and I think Ginny deserves a lot of the credit for that.”

‘Two Prizes’

Edwards has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and has been a frequent speaker on education policy and media issues.

Her plans are unclear, but she isn’t ready to retire, she said.

“I don’t have a next step scoped out yet,” Edwards said. “I will likely take a couple of months to see what follows.”

Givens, the incoming CEO, held positions with Outside magazine, Rodale Press, and McGraw-Hill before joining EPE in 2001. She has an M.B.A. from the University of New Mexico and an M.S. in the management of information technology from the University of Virginia.

Curran, the EPE board chair, said in his statement that the board was fortunate to have Givens ready to take over.

“Michele has closely partnered with Ginny in navigating EPE culturally, structurally, and fiscally through a period of great change,” Curran said, “in part by developing and rolling out forward-facing editorial and business initiatives that position Editorial Projects in Education as a leader in the digital-conversion space.”

Givens said in the interview that she had long felt that joining EPE was “a once-in-a-lifetime prize.” Taking the helm of the nonprofit corporation, she said, “makes me feel like the kid who found two prizes in the Cracker Jack box.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton

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