Media: HotSeat Interview With NYT Education Reporter Motoko Rich
The NYT's new national education reporter Motoko Rich speaks quickly but clearly, has a friendly, curious demeanor – straightforward but not rude or gruff. She’s been at the journalism game long enough to have done with the affectations many journalists take on. And her excitement about the new beat seems sincere, which is great for all of us who watch or participate in K-12 education. One example: At the end of our brief phone interview she asked me didn't I want to know her favorite teachers -- and proceeded to name four.
That being said, she’s obviously not a softie and has some high ambitions for what she’s going to do with her new beat. She’s already getting tons of pitches but doesn’t want to give too much guidance because good story ideas come from the strangest places. The NYT announcement email (also below) notes that she's known internally for being relentless in getting straight answers from sources. She’s on the lookout for great teacher and classroom voices (aren’t we all).
Like any reporter new to the beat, she's everyone's new best friend -- until she writes about you. Or at least, that's the hope. Crossed fingers for lots of fair but incredibly skeptical front-page education stories from the Times in the weeks and months ahead.
MR: A lot of people associate me with the books beat, because I did it for four years and it happened to take place during a tumultuous time when the industry was moving from print to digital. [See "The Future Of Reading" here.]
Which do you think is better, paper books or ereaders?
MR: I’m not supposed to have an opinion on that.
MR: The job came open internally and I really wanted the beat. Education is something I’ve been completely fascinated by for a long time. In previous beats I seem to have been inexorably pulled towards the topic.
[Some examples here: Test Scores and Housing Costs, Economic Lessons in Children's Literature, A Summer Camp to Lure Girls Into Manufacturing Careers, Vocational Schools Face Deep Cuts in Federal Funding, Given Stimulus Funds to Rehire, Schools Wait and See.]
What’s the reaction been so far?
MR: Internally, everybody seems excited. When I've talked to people about it, they are either not surprised they because they have already known of my interest, or I've told them about it, and then seem to think the move makes sense. It’s a very convivial and supportive place.
How about the outside reaction?
MR: I’m surprised at how quickly word travels. People already want to pitch me stories even though I don’t officially start until sometime later in June.
How is the beat set up right now at the Times?
MR: There are generally at least two people already covering NYC so my beat is to cover everything except NYC. I’m really interested in what’s happening on the ground, in visiting schools, in talking to parents and teachers and kids. We don’t currently have someone in our DC bureau who’s covering education so I’ll want to stay on top of what’s coming out of Washington. But mostly I’ll be trying to humanize the big trends and numbers, to show what’s happening to real people in real classrooms. [Tamar Lewin and Richard Perez-Pena cover higher education; Alan Schwarz and Stephanie Saul are investigative reporters.]
Did you go to private or public schools, and how about your kids?
MR: I went to public elementary JR H and HS [in Petaluma, CA] with two years at a private international school in Japan. I went to a private college ([Yale] and spent two years at Cambridge [Mellon fellowship]. I have two kids and they’re both in public elementary school in NYC. My husband works for a nonprofit in the tech sector. [2003 NYT marriage announcement here]
Who were your favorite teachers?
MR: Can I say four? In junior high I had an amazing English teacher named Dennis Cardwell, and also an 8th grade history teacher named Steve Lamb who was also the track coach. My high school English teacher was named Marilyn Stratford, and she sort of made me realize that there’s a world out there of literature and journalism. When I babysat for her there was a pile of New Yorkers on the table and that was the first time I’d seen that. In high school [Casa Grande] there was also a chemistry and physics teacher named Rick Pillsbury. There’s not a single person who’s had him as a teacher who didn’t think he was great.
Edited and condensed for clarity.
Rich: 'Readin, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic
Motoko Rich is moving to National as an education correspondent. Read more in this note from Sam Sifton and Rick Lyman.
With the greatest of pleasure we are able to announce that Motoko Rich will be joining the National Desk as a national education correspondent. Her passion about the subject is clear to anyone who has followed her work; whether she was covering the national economy, real estate or book publishing, Motoko always found a way to work a school teacher, a classroom or a librarian into her stories. For evidence, just look back at her excellent "Future of Reading" series, one of many examples we could have cited.
She came to The Times after doing sterling work at the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. As a national economics correspondent, the job she now holds, Motoko has proven especially adept at translating complicated notions and potentially dry data into compelling human stories.
And if you have never had the pleasure of listening to Motoko on the phone, stubbornly and methodically bearing down on some poor fool who thinks he’s going to be able to outwit her, it is one of the great pleasures of working at 620 Eighth Avenue. We may try to keep the cubicle next to her open just so people can stop by for a little listen now and then, whenever they need a quick pick-me-up.
— Sam and Rick