This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
“Welcome home.” It is a sentiment that I’ve heard dozens of times since arriving in Philadelphia last week and starting my new job as publisher and executive director of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
These kind words are uttered by people from all walks of life — community officials, education leaders, new and old friends, my coworkers, and even strangers who talk to me at the Wawa when I get my morning coffee.
I have to admit I am a little surprised at just how meaningful those two words are to me.
When I left the city at 21, it was with the anticipation that I would travel the world as a journalist. With Joan Didion as my inspiration and an internship at The Philadelphia Inquirer and a Temple University journalism degree under my belt, I dreamed of being a foreign correspondent and changing the world by exposing injustices.
With the striving lyrics of Bruce Springsteen as my soundtrack, I packed my car and headed west — all the way to Lancaster, Pa. Although it was not exactly an exotic locale, I did see cows for the first time up close and I learned how to be a working journalist at the morning daily newspaper there. That gig led to a job at the Baltimore Sun (at the time, in 1990, it was still a beacon for reporters who wanted to be foreign correspondents).
Life has a way of taking you off your intended track, and when my beloved mother died swiftly after being diagnosed with brain cancer, my world view changed in an instant. Soon, having children and creating a relationship like the one I had with my mother became paramount.
Raising and educating those children (in local public schools), combined with the loss of both of my parents, tethered us to other places — Baltimore for 14 years and then Vermont for 13 more. Through it all, I am grateful to have been able to work as a journalist for the vast majority of that time.
The profession that I have always loved has been in a constant state of flux almost since the moment I joined it. Buyouts, layoffs, downsizing, and furlough days are ugly words that are now commonplace in media management. I have been lucky to work for small, medium, and large corporate and family-owned media enterprises that are steadfast in their belief that an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a democracy. But those beliefs don’t protect against a changing marketplace and reader demand that we deliver on our important mission in a variety of new ways.
So, just as the Philadelphia that I left 26 years ago has changed in many ways (the skyline!), so must the news business. And, to me, that’s an exciting new kind of exploration.
Paul Socolar, one of the founders of the Notebook and its longtime editor and publisher, charted the course for the organization over the last 16 years. Now, we must honor him and his legacy (and the long list of volunteers, supporters, employees and advisers who shaped and grew the organization, and still do today) by carrying on the Notebook’s mission of journalistic excellence and commitment to improving education across the city.
I hope that you’ll join me and my excellent team on this new adventure. We always welcome new ideas, volunteers, news tips, and, of course, donations to help us to continue to deliver high-quality writing and reporting in print and online.
Before we get started, though, I need to stop at the Wawa.
Drop me a line at email@example.com.