Linda Lenz, 2011 Studs Terkel Community Media Award Winner

Linda Lenz Linda Lenz
Founder and Publisher
Catalyst Chicago

The year was 1989. Chicago was about to select its first local school councils, and Linda Lenz, then in her 11th year as the education reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, knew they would face a huge information gap – about education issues, promising practices, and even how the school system worked.

At the same time, Linda felt the need for a new challenge. And then, as she puts it, “the stars aligned.” She came up with the idea for a new publication and took it to the Community Renewal Society, which agreed to host the effort. Together they lined up backing from foundations that wanted a chronicle of this unique school reform effort and a place for councils to turn. Thus was born an outlet that provides in-depth reporting of education issues for all the communities working to improve the education system—parents, educators, community leaders and policy makers.

Asked how her experience as an education journalist has helped grow Catalyst, Linda remarks how she has grown along with it. As editor and then publisher, Linda has had the opportunity to wear many hats and has seen the publication grow from a magazine printed every month of the school year to a top media resource with multiple products, including an in-depth print quarterly, news reporting online, a parent newsletter (published in English and Spanish), issue briefing papers and public forums. The goal of this growth is to target different audiences with better-tailored messages.

What excites Linda now are the new opportunities that technology has made possible and the new spirit of media collaboration. While many publications struggle in the shifting media landscape, Catalyst has embraced the change to get its authoritative reporting into the hands of those who need it the most.

Much like Studs, Linda believes that listening to people in communities is an essential part of good reporting. “The truth and knowledge [grassroots people] bring is just as—if not more—valuable than what some policy makers say.”

“To me, the Studs Terkel Award is special because it recognizes the importance of connecting with our audiences, not just the news we produce. And joining the community of journalists who have won it is very special indeed.”

There is more to education issues than most people see. Linda hopes her work with Catalyst will help everyone recognize the complexity of education issues and avoid quick fixes — and will inspire them to invest in good policies and good people to implement those policies.

Linda graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana. She and Catalyst have won numerous local and national awards. She is a past president of the national Education Writers Association and a member of the Society for Professional Journalists and the Association for Women Journalists.