A New Chapter for The 74

The publisher announces a leadership structure for the future.

Jim Roberts, publisher of The 74

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Just over three years ago, the Board of Directors of The 74 offered me the job of Publisher and presented me with a specific but rather sprawling request: help The 74 secure a brighter future. 

I had been a reader of the site since 2017, and had long been impressed by the quality and depth of its reporting about the top issues in U.S. education. I knew several members of the staff and admired their pursuit of human-focused and fact-based storytelling. 

But in my first weeks as publisher, I quickly saw several avenues that could improve The 74 and help the publication achieve its full potential: Expanding our base of donors so that we could hire more journalists and cover more stories about student achievement, classroom innovation and educational equity; overhaul our distribution system so that more students, parents and teachers could see our journalism; and elevate The 74’s visibility and stature in both the education world and the news business.

Many months later, I’m thrilled to report that The 74 has made giant strides toward those goals and many others. The 74’s future is indeed very bright, and for that matter, its present is robust and vibrant.

It is also time to embark on a new era.

Today, I’m announcing that I am stepping down as publisher of The 74 and that my colleague, Editor-in-Chief Steve Snyder, will take on an expanded role as CEO of the news organization, overseeing both the content of the publication and the financial operations that support it. Having had a front-row seat since 2020 as Steve steered our newsroom through the pandemic, the culture wars that have engulfed education in recent years, and the huge learning challenges that so many students now face, I can think of no better person to lead both sides of this organization into 2024 and beyond.

Steve is very much the OG of The 74, having helped launch this publication with founders Romy Drucker and Campbell Brown in 2015. Since taking over as editor-in-chief in 2017, he has helped achieve the founders’ vision of making education a front-page news story every day. And he has done so while upholding the highest standards of journalism and making sure that every piece of content produced by the staff is thorough, fair, and relevant to the ultimate consumers of American education: students and their families.

In his role as CEO, Steve will take the reins of a publication and nonprofit company that has evolved significantly since I joined as publisher. As he and I vividly remember, the late summer of 2020 was a time of enormous uncertainty in education. Schools were beginning (or hoping) to reopen, but COVID was still a deadly and elusive threat, and the promise of a vaccine seemed at best, uncertain.

Like millions of other Americans, my new colleagues worked from home, and the only staff meetings were held in the open air – in someone’s backyard or a public park. 

The future didn’t look all that bright.

But a lot has changed since then. In the past three years, The 74 has seen its base of institutional donors grow from 6 to 19. We’ve launched a membership program and a major gifts effort and have built a growing revenue stream from sponsorships. And virtually all of the added money that The 74 has raised during this time has been reinvested into our journalism, in the form of freshly hired journalists, including those early in their careers, those with decades of experience, and those with diverse backgrounds and life experiences.

At the same time, the news reporting and in-depth storytelling these journalists produce is being seen by an audience that is four times the size of what The 74 reached prior to the pandemic, thanks to distribution agreements with platforms like Apple News, Flipboard, MSN, and Yahoo News as well as our partnerships with the Solutions Journalism Network and other news syndicators. 

And after a design overhaul last year, we created a bold new look for the publication and dedicated ourselves to producing articles and videos that were as pleasing and engaging to the eye as they were intriguing to the brain. The investment that The 74 has made in the visual impact of our education news coverage has sent a signal to readers that this coverage is equal parts authoritative, thoughtful, and quite often fun. 

All of the efforts I have prioritized as publisher, from broadening our donor base to courting distribution partners to enhancing our visual impact have been aimed at enriching the excellent journalism of The 74 — and creating more of it. Thanks in part to those efforts and to the core strengths of this publication, the past three years has seen a host of milestones for The 74.

Our work – in text and in video forms – has won numerous first-place awards from national journalism associations. We have partnered with the USC-Annenberg School of Journalism to help train the next generation of education journalists. And our journalists are constantly looking for new ways of exploring educational topics, as we did with our “16 Under 16” contest and with the launch of our “School (in)Security” newsletter.

In addition, The 74 has proven it can thrive within the expanding world of nonprofit news, without a paywall, without traditional advertising, and with open access to all. 

I can say with good confidence that when I hand off to Steve, our journalism and the infrastructure that supports it have a healthy gust of wind in their sails.

For the next several months I’ll be continuing to aid The 74 as contributing editor, and my goal will be to ensure that our momentum continues as Steve works to put in place his vision for the future of The 74. Stay tuned for more about that.

What lies in store for me after that remains to be seen. Forty-six years is a long time to spend in the news business. Jimmy Carter had only been in the White House for a few months when I took my first full-time job as a reporter. The subsequent four and a half decades, which included a literal marathon of years at The New York Times, and shorter sprints at Mashable, Cheddar and The 74, have been rewarding, exhilarating … and demanding.

This seems like a good moment to take some mandolin lessons, learn to speak French better, and think about what’s next.

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