Scott Elliott – Education Reform Reporter, The Indianapolis Star
By Amanda Belo
Scott Elliott has long covered the vital issue of education, both as a reporter and columnist. In his latest position with The Indianapolis Star, he is excited to exclusively continue covering what he sees as the most rewarding beat, and hopes to connect with readers across multimedia platforms.
Elliott joined the staff in January after writing for the Dayton Daily News, and less than a month at his new position he has found things to be eventful from the get-go.
“More than a half dozen education reform bills were introduced in the state legislature the week I arrived in Indiana,” he explained. “I’ve had to get up to speed on the issues very quickly.”
This is why he is focusing heavily on education reform at the state policy level, such as expansion of charter schools, institution of a new school voucher program and changes in teacher evaluation and collective bargaining.
“When the legislature calms down, I hope to get back to writing about reform at the classroom level,” he said. “Indianapolis Public Schools will be a primary responsibility for me, too.”
Elliott said that his goal is to help Hoosiers understand education and how reforms in particular will affect their lives and their children’s lives. He truly enjoys the dynamics of the education beat and understands the impact policies have on everyone, naming it the toughest, most rewarding and important beat there is.
“There are a million dimensions to the [education] beat,” he said. “I always say you can cover any interest you may have through the education beat. Want to write about big business? School districts are multi-million dollar enterprises. Want to write feature stories? There are loads of them in every school. Want to write about crime? Do data-driven stories? Cover youth culture and style? It’s all there for you. And remember, stories about schools matter to everyone who is a student, parent or pays taxes. That’s pretty much everybody.”
During his time at the Dayton Daily News, Elliott tapped into the world of new media and launched an education blog. He hopes to eventually add online components to his current position at the Star, and is eager to integrate digital platforms into his reporting.
“It’s obvious to me that the entire business will be online someday, probably in my lifetime,” he said. “The business model will have to change, and the way we do journalism already has begun to change in very exciting ways. It has been wrenching the way the business has been rocked by change, but has there ever been a more exciting time to be a journalist? I don’t think so.”
With the help of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Elliot found early on that delivering news would need to head in a similar direction. Although he is onboard with the ever-evolving field of online journalism, he recognizes the shift is still in progress with news organizations and is thoughtful of those who still read a physical newspaper.
He said, “I believe we all have to think online first, but most of our news organizations are still getting there. Still, we cannot forget our print-only readers altogether. They are very loyal and they still pay the bills. That balancing act is really tough.”
Elliott sees the advantage for newspapers being journalists’ expertise and the ability to report in depth.
“We have the ability to specialize and really dig into a topic,” he explained. “Now working at a statewide paper I’ve been impressed by the way the investigative reporting of my colleagues has shaped the statewide debate here on issues that really matter to people.”
Those print stories, however, can also be shaped by the new communication tools that digital media has to offer. Elliott speaks to implementing blogging in his own columns.
“Blogging was my early experience in social media. I can’t tell you how many times I would start to write about something on the blog and then begin reshaping it into a print story based on the questions those commenting were asking or the new information or tips they volunteered.”
Elliott advises PR professionals to pitch a real Indiana angle, especially for the Indianapolis area.
“Our paper is very focused on being local. The best pitches are about something that is not only interesting in and of itself, but also include names and numbers of local people who have a real role in the story.”
He also noted his coverage will be heavily focused on issues of school choice, school funding and urban school reform in 2011.
Send all pitches by e-mail. “E-mail is always best. It is so much easier to figure out if a pitch has relevance to what I am working on and to correspond via emails than by phone.”