Berkeleyside reporter Natalie Orenstein has been named a finalist in the Education Writers Association 2018 National Awards for Education Reporting.
The judges selected Orenstein’s three-part series, Beyond The Buses, which explored the legacy of Berkeley’s unprecedented voluntary school integration. The stories were published in October 2018 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of integration at Berkeley Unified School District.
Commenting on why the entry made the finalists’ list, the judges noted the thoroughness of the reporting and resourcefulness of the reporter: “This was an exhaustively reported series of articles on the urgent topic of school integration and how changing demographics and rising home prices are exacerbating the problem that Berkeley first tackled a half-century ago,” they wrote. “The reporter doggedly and diligently scoured the landscape for historical documents, research studies and demographic data, tracked down students who were bused out 50 years ago and visited schools to assess the current situation.”
Berkeleyside submitted Beyond the Buses in the Feature (Small staff) category, and the series is up against three other finalists: Zoë Carpenter at The Nation for her reporting about the opioid epidemic; Jackie Valley at The Nevada Independent for her stories on serving high-need students in Las Vegas elementary schools; and Suevon Lee at Honolulu Civil Beat for a series on closing cultural and academic gaps for Micronesian students in Hawaii schools.
“I’m delighted to be in the running for a national award alongside many journalists I respect,” said Orenstein. “Education reporting encompasses such a wide array of human stories and investigations into the important issues of our era, and it’s always great to see the beat get recognition.”
Berkeleyside Executive Editor Frances Dinkelspiel praised Orenstein’s ability to immerse herself in a complex subject that played out over decades.
“The stories draw you right into the conversations and tensions that surrounded the decision to voluntarily integrate the schools,” said Dinkelspiel. “It is a testament to Natalie’s skills that the articles are absorbing while revealing a history many people don’t know.”
Other finalists in the Feature category, one of 16 categories in total, include The Marshall Project, ProPublica, Chalkbeat Chicago and The New Yorker.
EWA reported that the entries this year for its awards were particularly strong. There were 400 eligible entries from which judges chose 55 finalists. EWA said judges “had to make many difficult decisions that meant some terrific stories didn’t make the list of … finalists.” All awards entrants are working journalists.
The awards were created “to advance education journalism by recognizing the field’s very best efforts.” Their goal is to encourage and inspire more and better education journalism, and to underscore the importance of excellent coverage and storytelling as a cornerstone of democracy and education.
“We feel privileged to help showcase the extraordinary work of the nation’s talented education journalists,” said Caroline Hendrie, EWA’s executive director. “From smaller community publications to flagship national news organizations, the caliber and impact of their collective work is inspiring.”
Orenstein, who joined Berkeleyside in March 2017, after interning in the summer of 2012 and subsequently freelancing for the news site, covers Berkeleyside’s education beat as well as writing general-assignment stories.
In January, Orenstein was the recipient of an inaugural Golden Quill award from the California School Boards Association (CSBA). The Golden Quills recognize “fair, insightful and accurate reporting on public school news.” The award was presented at the Berkeley Unified School District’s board meeting.
The EWA judges also commended Berkeleyside for allowing Orenstein to do such a deep dive into the subject of Berkeley’s school integration. “Kudos to Berkeleyside, a small community news organization, for devoting such time and effort to this pressing social issue,’ they wrote.
“I’m grateful that my editors at Berkeleyside supported this project and gave me time to dig deeply into Berkeley Unified’s unusual history and the equity issues that persist half a century later,” said Orenstein.
The winners of the awards will be announced at EWA’s 2019 National Seminar on May 6-8 in Baltimore.