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A big grant to revamp online publishing

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Notebook will be revamping its publishing and implementing new digital strategies for reaching parents and other core audiences, thanks to a two-year, $202,000 grant just awarded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The grant, through Knight’s Community Information Challenge, will help the Notebook build its audience by producing more multimedia content, expanding its use of social media, and making its content more accessible via mobile devices.

The main goal of this project is to do a better job of informing and serving Philadelphia public school parents, many of whom do not have broadband Internet access at home.

Notebook readership surveys have shown that the bimonthly print edition has a large parent audience, but the website, where fresh content is posted daily, is more heavily used by education professionals. The Notebook is looking to expand and diversify its online audience.

“During our early days in the 1990s, the Notebook spent a lot of time handing the newspaper out in schoolyards and we connected that way with other parents,” recalled Notebook co-founder and editor Paul Socolar, who was himself a public school parent then.

“We know that now a lot more parents are connected digitally – that could be at home or on a smartphone or by going to the library. We’re hoping to do a better job of engaging with those parents, having conversations, and getting them the information they need. Maybe that’ll be via Facebook or by text message, or by improving our website. We will also be figuring out how to make the best use out of our print edition; a lot of our readers still say they depend on it."

The project will kick off this fall with audience research to help the Notebook understand better who is reading its different versions now and what kinds of changes they’d like to see.

Grant funds over two years will also pay for an overhaul of the website, new online tools and applications, and training for staff.

"Our staff mostly comes from a print journalism background," Socolar said. “We want to do more telling of stories in ways besides traditional news articles. Sometimes what’s called for is a photo or video or maybe just a one-sentence tweet or Facebook post."

This is the second time the Notebook has received an award from Knight’s highly competitive Community Information Challenge, an initiative to encourage community foundation support for local news and information projects that focus on community engagement. The foundation has funded nearly 80 projects nationwide to address local community information needs.

The challenge requires the local news projects to obtain a matching grant from a local foundation. This is the second time the William Penn Foundation, a partner in Knight’s Community Information Challenge, has supported the Notebook‘s application to Knight.

As always, the Notebook welcomes your feedback. Tell us: What kind of changes would you like to see? How can we grow and engage our parent audience? What would you like us to do more of? What can we jettison?

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