The New York Times‘ latest effort to teach parents exactly how to get their kids into college, SchoolBook, launched today in collaboration with WNYC. It bills itself as “News, data and conversation about schools in New York City” and basically consists of education reporting plus the coup de grace: a large and detailed searchable database of schools both private and public across New York, with ratings for things like performance, diversity, and satisfaction. You can search across a number of different criteria; for example, here’s what it looks like to search for public high schools in Brooklyn. SchoolBook represents the Times‘ latest attempt to shed its Ivory-Tower-On-A-Hilltop (or whatever) image and get more interactive with readers.
SchoolBook’s editor, Mary Ann Giordano, plus two others — education journalists Maria Newman and Anna Philips — comprise the site’s staff. According to Giordano, the Times’ education reporters are all contributing as well, “much in the way they do with City Room.”
Giordano said that the idea for SchoolBook has been kicking around for a year. “We realized that giving people raw data [about schools] doesn’t really work. Not enough people are equipped to deal with it,” she said. The Times partnered with WNYC almost from the beginning: “They’re very very good at community interaction and outreach,” Giordano said. “We are trying to get better and better at that. Having them be our partners on this was a really good way of accomplishing that.”
SchoolBook is pretty-looking and, importantly, doesn’t fall under NYT subscription restrictions, clearly a gambit to bring people in and build a community of regular visitors.
What kind of community? We fear that it could turn into a forum for upper-middle-class parents to whine about their kids’ schools, but Giordano did mention that the next phase of SchoolBook’s development will include translations, an effort to reach out to immigrant families and “people who wouldn’t normally visit nytimes.com or listen to WNYC.” Seems to us as though SchoolBook might represent the NYT’s best attempt yet at diversifying its readership, better than the Local sites in the East Village and Fort Greene. Question is, will SchoolBook be able to attract the demographics it’s trying to get? Or will it turn into UrbanBaby for the parents of older children? Time will tell. It’s an interesting experiment at any rate.