Veteran journalist Kathleen McNerney, who has worked at WBUR for more than a decade, was a producer for both Morning Edition and All Things Considered before becoming the senior producer / editor of Edify, the station’s multimedia project covering education in Boston and beyond. Lisa van der Pool recently sat down with Kathleen to discuss her work, the education beat and what stories she’s looking to cover in 2019.
Kathleen McNerney, senior producer and editor, WBUR’s Edify
Lisa: Why did you initially decide to become a journalist?
Kathleen: I had the opportunity to work at Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV, while I was a student. I quickly loved the fast-paced nature and the challenge of distilling a complex news story into 30 or 40 seconds.
After graduation, I spent a year volunteering in El Paso, Texas working with a small non-profit facilitating programs on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. It was a challenging, humbling and personally expansive year. I learned a lot about the border, non-profit organizations and myself. That year made it clear that I wanted to amplify the experiences of real people as a way to understand the broader, structural challenges at play in the world.
Lisa: How long have you worked at WBUR? At Edify?
Kathleen:Ten and a half years at WBUR. Just over a year with Edify.
Lisa: There is so much happening right now in education news - how has the beat changed in the past 12 months?
Kathleen: The dizzying pace of information is the main change I see in news, in general. We are constantly debating what needs immediate coverage and what warrants a deeper dive. I also think we need to look critically at the rhetoric and assumptions about “failing” schools and teachers. There is always room for improvement, but there’s also a lot of debate about what makes a quality school or teacher. Which is why I think it’s so important to get into learning spaces to witness first hand what’s actually happening in classrooms.
"The dizzying pace of information is the main change I see in news, in general. We are constantly debating what needs immediate coverage and what warrants a deeper dive."
Lisa: What stories (or themes) is your team focusing on this year?
Kathleen: This year, we are focused on issues around inequality in schools. We are also gearing up for a series of stories about small colleges.
Lisa: What is your pet peeve(s) when it comes to working with PR folks?
Kathleen: When a pitch doesn’t get to the point. Give me a concise line or two with the heart of the story. If you can’t tell me what the story is about, I can’t make my audience care.
Lisa: What's the biggest challenge in your job as an editor?
Kathleen: My role is to serve as the listener (or reader). I have to put myself in their shoes and ask: why should they care about this story? Why should they give up their precious time to hear or read this piece? And then I have to translate that, helping reporters craft their story in a way that is accurate, engaging, authentic and representative. A real part of that challenge is to carve out time to speak with real people about education in the real world, so I have some basis for those judgements. A more broad challenge is that I don’t know what I don’t know. So how can I ask the right questions? How can I look at a common or oft-repeated story through a different lens?
"This year, we are focused on issues around inequality in schools. We are also gearing up for a series of stories about small colleges."
Happy #NationalHigherEducationDay! We hope you've enjoyed our education blog takeover so far — and we have more reporter Q&As and education content on the way! Stay tuned for the continuation of our education spotlight in the coming weeks. In the meantime, to learn more about our education practice, subscribe to our newsletter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.