So that’s what I’ve been doing…

by Steve, July 1st, 2009

…beat blogging!

Two and a half years ago, I started ranting on this site about the gross educational inequities in Portland’s public schools. This eventually got the attention of the local mainstream media and the greater school district community. I didn’t set out with a mission, other than just speaking my mind.

Pretty soon all I wrote about here was schools, schools, schools. One day, while writing yet another blog post about schools, my daughter asked me, “How come you only write about school politics on your hockey blog?” “Good question!” I said, and started another blog all about schools.

Why? Because I can (my day job is “professional nerd”).

Eventually, PPS Equity started taking on the look of a… what? Online magazine? I settled on calling it a “new media publication.” I even came up with a mission statement: “to inform, advocate and organize, with a goal of equal educational opportunity for all students in Portland Public Schools, regardless of their address, their parent’s wealth, or their race.” Readership climbed steadily, with around 20% of visits consistently coming directly from school district computers.

Since I host my blogs on a server that I own, I decided to open up my platform to others working for the common good.

That’s it, I thought, I’m doing “new media publishing!” It’s got a nice ring to it.

But I’m also doing some kind of journalism, and that’s where it gets tricky. I have a great deal of respect for professional journalists, and a healthy disdain of bloggers who pick up the latest news reports, toss off 500 words of commentary, and call themselves “citizen journalists” or some such. The point being that they are leeching off of the professionals. The story doesn’t run if somebody doesn’t report it in the first place. That’s what journalists — a.k.a. reporters — do.

When I wrote for Portland Metblogs (moribund since last February), I floated the idea of doing citizen journalism there, which didn’t go over well with a couple other contributors who couldn’t accept that writing from a point of view does not disqualify one as a journalist.

When I was invited to be on a panel about blogging at a conference for professional journalists and journalism students last fall, I had a little trepidation about being chewed up and spit out. (It was a very friendly crowd, as it turned out.) The two other bloggers on the panel were very clear about considering themselves journalists, but I made a point of identifying myself as a community activist, not a journalist.

But… the kind of writing — and reporting — that I do is outside of the usual realm activism. I actually do reporting, is the thing, at the same time I’m doing advocacy and organizing. “New media publishing” captures the big picture of what it means to run a community blog, but the actual beat reporting I do is, in fact, journalism.

Which all became clear to me the other day when, a project affiliated with New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, gave me a nice shout-out on their Leaderboard, which they describe as “a list of the most innovative beat reporters in the world.”

Wha….? You’ve got to be kidding me! (Seriously, I’m floored over here!)

Their summary of my work on PPS Equity highlights the combination of advocacy and journalism. “…[I]t is starting to seem like good beatbloggers — especially education ones — mix in a bit of advocacy with their journalism. It’s not that they are biased, but rather that they care to see change,” writes Patrick Thornton, editor of

I poked around their site… man, great stuff. It’s all about “how journalists can use social networks, blogs and other Web tools to improve beat reporting.” I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve already found great information that I’ll be trying to incorporate into my work at PPS Equity going forward, like how in the hell to use Twitter effectively. (Sadly, I also found out that is losing its funding. Damn, talk about bad timing!)

Most of all, I’m glad to have a name for what it is that I’ve been doing: beat blogging. It’s not at all what I set out to do, but here I am doing it. One of these days, I’ll have to figure out how to monetize it so I can quit my day job.