The ‘Times’ shuffles the deck, again, on the education beat

Changes in the 'Times' education report. ()
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The journalists who produce The New York Times' education report have seen a fair amount of change in recent months.

In February, Jodi Rudoren, the paper's education editor at the time, accepted a new post: To take the place of Ethan Bronner as Jerusalem bureau chief.

As soon as she switched jobs, the regular meetings Times education reporters had been accustomed to under her leadership stopped. A few weeks later, they were told reporters covering local education would report to the Metro Desk, and reporters covering national education topics would report to the National Desk. Rudoren has not been replaced.

"It’s a subtle restructuring meant to link the various reporters covering education more closely to their editors on Metro or National," a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, told Capital.

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The education beat has gone back and forth a few times in the last decade between being organized as a cohesive "pod" (in internal Times parlance) with reporters' coverage nonetheless scattered across different sections or on the web, and being decentralized. Metro and National used to each have education reporters working independently of each other before Rudoren took over; before that, between 2002 and 2005, Suzanne Daley was education editor and ran a "pod" much like Rudoren's.

The latest decision to splinter the education pod came amid other personnel shuffling. Sam Dillon, the national education reporter, took a buyout late last year, and it wasn't until mid-May that the paper found his replacement: Motoko Rich, who'd previously reported on national economics and the publishing industry.

"Her passion about the subject is clear to anyone who has followed her work," national editor Sam Sifton and his deputy, Rick Lyman, wrote in an internal memo announcing the move a few weeks ago. "Whether she was covering the national economy, real estate or book publishing, Motoko always found a way to work a school teacher."

Around the same time, a note went out from metro editor Carolyn Ryan announcing that crime reporter Al Baker, an "institution" in the Police Shack (the press pen at One Police Plaza), was switching to the New York City schools beat. (Former Philadelphia Daily News all-star Wendy Rudderman replaced him as Times police bureau chief on Monday.)

"We look forward to him bringing his customary energy and thoughtfulness to one of Metro’s most essential beats," Ryan wrote.

Baker appears to fill one of two positions created when former city education reporters Sharon Otterman and Fernanda Santos moved into the jobs of New York religion reporter and Arizona bureau chief, respectively. Ever since Winnie Hu started covering the Bronx a few months ago, meanwhile, it seems like there hasn't been a reporter devoted to the suburban school districts.

There's also SchoolBook, the Times' New York City education joint venture with WNYC that's overseen by Mary Ann Giordano, the paper's metro editor in charge of hyperlocal and collaborative journalism. Anna Phillips, who had been SchoolBook's full-time reporter-blogger for the past year, left last week for a job at The Tampa Bay Times. It's unclear whether she's been replaced.

Murphy said the recent realignment did not signal a diminution of education coverage.

"We still have many reporters and editors across our Metro and National desks covering education," she said.

Nationally, in addition to Rich, there's Richard Perez-Pena and Tamar Lewin on higher education, and Alan Schwarz on enterprise. The weekly "On Education" column veers into both local and national territory, but the column's future is unclear now that Michael Winerip is launching a new Times baby-boomer blog. And who could forget the Gossip Girl-esque New York City private schools beat the paper created back in 2010? It continues to be helmed by Jenny Anderson.

"There has been no reduction in staffing levels," said Murphy.

The paper will, however, name a second metro education reporter sometime soon, she said.