The Dallas Morning News is adding four staffers to its new Education Lab, building a team of journalists to expand the newspaper’s in-depth education coverage.
The Education Lab is The News’ most ambitious move yet into community-funded journalism, where coverage is supported by philanthropic funding.
“The mission of the Education Lab is to report the stories that help kids,” said editor Eva-Marie Ayala. “The stakes are incredibly high because if we don’t get education right, it’s not just one student who is let down but a whole family — a whole city. And we will spend generations trying to overcome those setbacks.”
“I’m excited about the Education Lab team because each journalist has a heart for kids. Their different experiences, perspectives and talents will deepen the reporting and storytelling that serves our communities.”
All four reporters — Talia Richman, Emily Donaldson, Valeria Olivares and Nicolette White — have strong ties to Texas.
Richman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Baltimore Sun, will be a reporter with the Ed Lab.
A Dallas native and Richardson High School graduate, Richman has served as The Sun’s city hall reporter for the past year. She was a part of a team that won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting, exposing self-dealing from Mayor Catherine Pugh through a self-published children’s book and a larger pattern of no-bid contracts among several University of Maryland Medical System board members.
Before writing about politics and local government, Richman was The Sun’s education reporter from 2017 to 2019, covering issues and inequities in the Baltimore school system.
Richman took part in The News’ high school internship program in 2012, writing more than 30 stories for the newspaper — including a front-page story on the plight of a Richardson couple who were both battling cancer.
Donaldson, a Houston native and an education reporter for the nonprofit newsroom San Antonio Report, will join the Ed Lab as an engagement reporter.
In three years at the Report (formerly known as the Rivard Report), Donaldson covered everything from local school districts to charter schools to higher education, focusing on issues of inequity and access for the area’s students.
Donaldson chronicled the near-constant interventions by the Texas Education Agency with school districts on San Antonio’s South Side, and highlighted innovative efforts in Laredo and Brownsville to help children living in poverty.
Olivares, a freelance journalist from the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region, will start a two-year fellowship with the Ed Lab in December after she graduates from the University of Texas at El Paso.
Formerly editor-in-chief of UTEP’s student newspaper, Olivares has already been published in The News and Al Día, covering immigration and border issues.
Last spring, she co-authored several stories with The News’ award-winning journalist Alfredo Corchado, including a look at the poor working conditions at maquiladoras — factories along the border — during the COVID-19 crisis.
White, a Frisco Lone Star High School graduate, will join the Ed Lab team as an intern. She was most recently a 2020 urban affairs journalism fellow at Philadelphia-based news nonprofit NextCity, where she served through the Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow program — which works to find internships for students of color in media organizations.
She is a recent graduate of Temple University, where she wrote for a student-run publication that focused on the undercovered and underserved neighborhoods of Philadelphia.
Grant Moise, publisher of The News, said that he is “proud of the talent we have attracted to expand our education coverage.”
“There is a combination of local, regional and national experience on this team which will help broaden our sources and subject matter expertise,” Moise said.
Seven Dallas-area foundations, families and institutions provided the initial grants to help launch the Education Lab: Communities Foundation of Texas, The Meadows Foundation, The Dallas Foundation, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation, The Beck Group, and Bobby and Lottye Lyle.
Tom Huang, The News‘ assistant managing editor for journalism initiatives, said he was thrilled to watch how the new initiative has crystallized “into a reporting staff that’s diverse — with journalists of color and women journalists.”
Beth Frerking, the DMN’s news vertical editor, said that under Ayala’s leadership, the Ed Lab would “deepen the strong education coverage we already provide North Texas readers.”
“We can’t wait to do so at full tilt with this exemplary team,” Frerking said.
The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Communities Foundation of Texas, The Meadows Foundation, The Dallas Foundation, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation, The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, and the Solutions Journalism Network. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.