Journalism Profile, Liz Willen | Teachers College Columbia University

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Journalism Profile, Liz Willen

Journalism Profile, Liz Willen
Back in the early 1990s, Liz Willen was just starting out as a reporter for Newsday on Long Island when a job covering education opened in the paper’s Queens’ bureau. Though she didn’t have much education beat experience, Willen landed the position and quickly found herself immersed in the turbulent world of the nation’s largest public school system. It was a perfect fit. “I was completely and utterly hooked,” says Willen. “There were a million fascinating stories: fights about race, curriculum controversies, politics. It was exciting and filled with conflict.”
Nearly two decades later, Willen is still hooked. After 11 years at Newsday, she became one of the first education writers at Bloomberg News service. In 2006, Willen became the assistant director of the Hechinger Institute for Education and the Media, where she directs training and plans seminars and fellowships aimed at helping other journalists inform their audiences about educational issues. “We stand for helping the public understand the role of education in a democratic society,” she says.
She also writes the Hechinger Institute’s “EarlyStories’’ blog, which looks at national coverage of early childhood issues, and contributes to the “High School Hustle” and “Middle School Muddle” blogs for the nonprofit Insideschools Web site, aimed at helping parents navigate the city school system. And she is looking forward to reporting and writing for the Institute’s planned education Web site.
Despite the clouds of doubt that hover over nearly every new journalistic venture, Willen is optimistic about the Hechinger Institute’s new direction.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to get the public excited about education. It’s still extremely important,” she says. “It touches upon every aspect of people’s lives: tax dollars, resources, the way their children think, their opportunities, social mobility.”
Not surprisingly, Willen has a long list of story ideas in mind. “In journalism, we always say ‘show, don’t tell,’” she says. “It’ll be a chance to practice what we preach.” 

Published Friday, Dec. 4, 2009