From a Newsletter to Newsroom, and Now Onto Something New

It all started with a newsletter 10 years ago.

Unable to sleep one night, I picked up the phone, checked my email and saw an opening in Issue 25 of the EdSurge newsletter for a part-time editorial assistant. I pecked out a few thoughts with my thumbs and eventually dozed off. The next morning, I polished those half-baked ideas into coherent sentences and sent it off.

That would mark the start of an incredible journey for the next decade. A journey from a single newsletter into an award-winning newsroom, bridging communities of educators and entrepreneurs, teachers and learners, finance and policy, research and practice across the world. A journey of personal growth into a reporter, editor, manager, event planner, public speaker, Photoshopper, pitch deck maker and passable spreadsheet hack. A journey across the country and beyond, from Doha to Helsinki, from Tel Aviv to Tokyo and São Paulo.

Along the way, colleagues became friends, friends became colleagues. Readers became writers, sources became mentors. People who I once reported on, I later reported to. More than most media outlets, EdSurge catalyzed an industry, created a community and challenged the limits of what’s possible.

Starting any new venture in education is challenging enough. Starting a journalism outlet may be one of the few things that is harder. Doing both at once? Well, EdSurge is what happens when people are crazy and committed enough to try.

From a newsletter to a news outlet, now it is on to something new for me.

They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m not so sure that’s true, because I don’t think there’s any job where people love everything they must do.

What I have learned is that the people who I work with matter just as much, if not more, than the work itself. That means every colleague, past and present, at EdSurge and ISTE, who shaped this into what it is today. And that starts with Betsy Corcoran, who saw something and believed in me. And Agustin Vilaseca, whose generosity and kindness is matched perhaps only by his prowess with grilled meats. (I can still taste that ox tongue chimichurri… )

Building a newsroom has been the joy of a lifetime, even if some of the steps along the way were made up on the fly. To Charley Locke, Blake Montgomery, Paty Gomes, Marguerite Carter, Jeff Young, Antoinette Siu, Jen Curtis, Jenny Abamu, Stephen Noonoo, Sydney Johnson, Tina Nazerian, Emily Tate, Wade Millward and Becky Koenig — thank you. I’ve learned so much from you all and can only hope I’ve reciprocated in some way. In pushing this newsroom to ever greater heights, you push me, along with yourselves, to achieve things that once seemed improbable. I also made you do things that were likely unconscionable and definitely insufferable, like staying up after the conference afterparties to file stories. (I’m sorry!)

An extra heartfelt thanks to Mary Jo Madda, my co-captain for many years. I don’t think all of this would have been possible without the foundational pieces you laid and the connections you made. And to Marisa Busch, who has been instrumental in helping to produce some of the most powerful and impactful stories EdSurge has told.

People have asked what EdSurge will be without me. The question tickles my hubris a little. It also bothers me a lot. Rest assured: It is in good hands, under the watch and penmanship of seasoned journalists. Besides, seniority is not longevity, and the future of EdSurge is not tied to any one person. It has never been. Behind the scenes, behind the bylines, many people work tirelessly to make it happen, doing the hard work that few would see so that I could do the work that people could read.

My gratitude equally extends to the hundreds of contributing writers who I’ve had the pleasure to work with: teachers, students, administrators, parents, policymakers, researchers, chief executives, investors and countless others. “Entrepreneur” is a term often reserved for business folks and techies, but I have found that the most entrepreneurial people are just as often working in a classroom as they are in a boardroom.

An obscure but related tangent: Before EdSurge, there was Luckybird Games. Were it not for Brady Fukumoto and Kris Hattori bringing me onboard, I don’t think I would have signed up for the EdSurge newsletter in the first place. A special thanks to John Danner, Jennifer Carolan and Michael Carter for entertaining and supporting that funny venture. Short-lived as it was, “Zelda with math” opened the door into the world of edtech. Those all-nighters spent making maps in Illustrator and trying to get those damn SQL loops to work were totally worth it!

To date, EdSurge has published over 12,000 stories — and counting. Most of them would not have been possible without the education community sharing their work with us. None of it would have had an impact without our readers and their support. Thank you.

EdSurge has always been ahead when it comes to covering emerging ideas and trends in education. In the previous decade, much of that involved technology — developed by a small but growing number of entrepreneurs, supported by better computing infrastructure, funded by investors, and adopted (and sometimes built) by educators who were then considered pioneers for trying new things.

It wasn’t too long ago that edtech was considered an afterthought that few wanted to touch, cover or fund. Now, education and technology are almost inseparable. “Edtech” is not computers, tablets, math games, PDFs, online tests or learning management systems; it is woven into the entire lifecycle of teaching and learning, spanning admissions and enrollment, financial aid and student loan, mentoring and social-emotional wellbeing, communication and collaboration, payroll and professional development, and on and on. No, not all the tools have been proven to work, or are even ready for prime time. But education is not going back.

Education technology is no longer niche — as a reporting beat, a startup idea or an investment sector. As a longtime industry analyst succinctly put it: There are no “edtech” companies.

Just as the sector has evolved and matured, so too has EdSurge expanded into uncovering new ideas and innovations. Some areas involve tech, some don’t, but all will shape the future of teaching and learning. Like early childhood education and the underpaid and under-appreciated workforce that powers it. Social-emotional learning and its intersection with issues of race and equity. Community programs that repair relationships between students and law enforcement. Efforts to carry on the work of legendary librarians. The timeless lessons of the arts, humanities and Shakespeare in an age of accelerating technological advancements. Never has there been a more important time for these stories to be told.

Technology, in education or elsewhere, only amplifies humanity and our best and worst tendencies. Its impact is what ultimately matters, and this is the important work that Jeff Young, Emily Tate, Stephen Noonoo, Rebecca Koenig and future EdSurge journalists will continue to chronicle.

Journalism is the heart of EdSurge. In the early days, anyone who wasn’t an engineer was an assistant editor, regardless of whether they felt ready to be one (or imagined reporting would be part of their career path).

Betsy showed us the ropes, and then it was trial by fire in true startup fashion. We called, interviewed, researched, wrote, rewrote and rewrote some more. We littered Google Docs with gallons upon gallons of digital ink with strikethroughs, comments, revisions, puns and jokes, some of which wound up in print. Sometimes I’d be awake in California when East Coast colleagues got up to file their drafts. The work was hard and fun — a testament to the adage that growth and comfort cannot always coexist.

Reporting was certainly not all of our calling, and not everyone stuck with it. But the foundational skills involved — to ask good questions, to challenge prevailing assumptions, to find and gain the trust of people who do the work and know what’s actually happening, to communicate clearly and convincingly — proved invaluable in whatever roles people later took on. Whether it’s designing new products, conducting market research, selling sponsorships, raising money, writing proposals, organizing events or anything else, you’re ultimately either telling or listening to a story.

As a job, journalism provides an invaluable and essential public service. As a skill, it can prepare anyone for most jobs in life. As a craft, journalism can be a fun, creative outlet for finding one’s voice, for exploring and sharing our quirks and eccentricities. I’ve probably abused that last part a little much in my younger days.

Whatever’s next, the skills and spirit of EdSurge Journalism will play a part. I don’t think this apple will fall far from the tree.

I hope to see you all soon. Don’t be a stranger.

From Tony With Love
hi@tonywan.co

head of investor content @reachfund. co-founder & former managing editor @edsurge. thoughts and ramblings are purely my own.