Q&A with Mebane Rash of EducationNC

Mebane Rash is CEO of EducationNC and editor of its website, which launched this week. In this interview, conducted by email, she discusses the project’s objectives.

Q. What is EducationNC? What are you hoping to achieve with this site?

A. EdNC is a nonpartisan online platform, providing data, research, news, information and analysis about the major trends, issues and challenges facing our schools. EdNC intends to surface ideas, success stories and statistics that will inspire us all to reconsider our assumptions about education.

EdNC intends to host a bipartisan conversation fueled with good information. We seek a statewide audience, including farmers and foundation staffs, leaders of religious organizations and political parties. We want EdNC to be read by public officials, parents and policymakers, as well as by teachers and school administrators.

Q. Describe your role with the site. How were you involved with its development, and now that it’s up and running, what is your typical workweek like?

A. I am the CEO and editor-in-chief, but I didn’t know very much about EdNC until July. I started in September, and I think we have had more than 150 meetings since then across the state.

I wanted to make sure we were building a website that people would actually use. I met with teachers, principals, students, administrators and parents. I talked to policymakers, the media and advocates.

Talking to people was my way of making sure EdNC was grounded in the lived experience of educators statewide. What we can promise is that we will monitor and adjust the content of the site based on user experience.

The only thing that is a sure thing about my day is that I get up about 5 a.m. so that I can post our news aggregation by 8 a.m. We only have three full-time staff so we all do whatever it takes to have a website with fresh content each day designed to maximize the user experience.

Q. EducationNC promises a mix of news and opinion. How will you balance that, particularly as a nonprofit organization that receives support from grants and donations?

A. I think our users will get use to our mix of content. We want to have something for everybody.

We have columns each day of the week. We have features — sometimes they will be research-based, other times they will be contributed by an education stakeholder. We have straight news. Sometimes we will have articles that express a point of view because we want the state to know the range of opinions that are influencing policy. We have maps that give people the opportunity to visualize data and interact with it. You can upload your ed events to our site. We have a crowdsourced EdLibrary with important resources. We will be live-streaming events – like the Triangle Startup Weekend on Education in February. Users can pick and choose what interests them.

I have editorial and content control. Our full-time staff are required to be unaffiliated voters – but they also need to be living nonpartisan lives personally and professionally. EdNC discloses when an article includes information about a board member or a financial contributor. Our funders know they can’t influence our content.

Q. North Carolina is a competitive place for news. How do you anticipate EducationNC will fit in with the likes of WRAL and The Charlotte Observer?

A. We know that for EdNC to be a success we need to have good relationships with legacy media.

We hope to provide an EdWire to the urban newspapers. We hope to provide explanatory journalism to rural newspapers. We try to package articles with all the assets a media outlet would need to run a story – photos, graphics, art, etc.

Each morning, our news aggregation drives traffic to national, state and local news stories. Our focus on education allows us to dive deep on this issue — an issue we happen to think is the most important issue facing North Carolina.

For more about EducationNC, visit the website, watch this video and follow the project on Twitter.