Here’s how a mostly online, specialty news organization scooped the mainsteam media competition

From the Huffington Post:

[Sarah] Karp, one of just five full-time employees at an education-focused newsmagazine called Catalyst Chicago, routinely looked through these lengthy reports after board meetings. She knew that it was rare for a no-bid contract to be awarded to a company for professional development services that other groups in the area could provide. Karp became even more suspicious when she found that Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the head of Chicago Public Schools, had worked as a consultant for SUPES immediately before she started at CPS as a consultant. After about a month of reporting, Karp published a story drawing attention to the no-bid contract.

Karp didn’t know it at the time, but her story would help jump-start a federal investigation into Byrd-Bennett and SUPES. Earlier this month, that investigation culminated in federal bribery and kickback charges for Byrd-Bennett and two owners of SUPES. Byrd-Bennett, who resigned from her public school post in June, subsequently pled guilty to the charges.

Catalyst Chicago’s staff credit the particular niche of the outlet they worked for with allowing Karp to do this kind of reporting. Freed from the pressure of churning out daily stories at the magazine — which publishes in print four times a year and online about three times a week — Karp said she had the time to dig in and follow her initial hunch about the contract. She was well positioned to do so, her editors said, because of her expertise in covering schools.

A former editor of mine once told me that the education beat is the most important beat at any newspaper. Why? Because there there is no form of government that more directly affects peoples’ lives than schools.

Then why do so many papers — the Journal Star among them — seemingly do a poor job. Well, there are about one third the reporters covering beats at daily newspapers. A schools reporter may also be the daily cops reporter, or also responsible for covering the city council.

There’s not much time to pour over line items in a budget when you are also churning out copy they use to wrap ads around.

And while there may be an abundance of news coming about f the urban school districts, there’s not much will to discover when your editors and readers are increasingly suburban.

Feel free to comment!