Life at Newsela: Jenny Coogan, Chief Content Officer
Jenny Coogan joined Newsela in 2013 to build out our content library, single-handedly writing and editing dozens of articles herself. Today, she leads our Content team in creating and curating over 9,500 pieces of content that reach 90% of US schools. Under her guidance, Newsela has become an indispensable content source for K-12 educators on a daily basis.
What does your department do and why is that so important to Newsela’s mission?
The Content Department powers the words within Newsela. We’re 100 percent focused on developing content that is engaging to students and meets the needs of teachers. In other words, our team spends our days writing, editing, and identifying articles to publish on our platform. We do everything from sourcing articles from content partners, to working with contributors to level articles into 5 different Lexile levels, to designing text sets that bring rich, engaging content into context with a specific lesson topic.
What’s your team working on now that’s most exciting to you?
Something that is challenging and thrilling for us is responding to the content needs of the modern classroom. There are so many discussions happening in classrooms on topics that are not traditionally academic, like cyberbullying or gaming addictions, where textbooks are virtually silent. We can approach those topics through a social-emotional learning lens. In general, schools are hungry for content that better represents the diversity and interests of their student populations. Also, schools are greatly in need of content that draws real world connections to subjects covered in school. Our team relishes the hunt for this kind of content and the process of crafting it into something worthy of the Newsela platform.
What do you look for when hiring on your team? What’s most important to you?
Most important is having a natural, persistent sense of curiosity about the world. While everyone has their area of expertise (like Science, Social Studies or ELA), I love how any given topic can fire up a lively team discussion – anything from black holes to medieval plagues – we all pile in and rush to the place of “how could we bring this to life in the classroom?”
I also look for people who will be supportive of their colleagues. Our content development process goes through many hands and we need smooth collaboration. To that end, I also want teammates who approach work with a certain sense of urgency and respect for deadlines. A school year passes by in a flash (at least, as a parent, it feels that way) and we want to make sure that we get to serve as many students as possible before they’re out of school and into the real world.
Which teams do you work closely with and how does that collaboration make what you do stronger?
We work very closely with the Product, Engineering, Data and Design teams. This collaboration means that beyond simply developing what content is put on the Newsela platform, my team helps shape how students and teachers interact with our content. We get to be involved in the product design process, and in turn understand how our content engages readers, all to continue improving what we offer to classrooms.
From your perspective, what makes Newsela special?
What we do and who we are is closely tied. Since we were all students once, we all seem to approach our work with a deep sense of empathy for our end users. This sense of purpose shines through in our meetings and gatherings. We not only deeply care about each other, we also have a sincere drive to create something that will have a profoundly positive impact on education.
Do you have a favorite Newsela moment?
We were facing a very busy summer, with more projects than we had expected. People could feel the pressure. So for levity, one of our managers on the Content team called out on our team Slack channel for people to express their sentiments in the form of a haiku. Within minutes, I saw notifications ticking up. Our team channel had filled with dozens of lines of verse. Only at Newsela would people turn to a Japanese form of poetry as a therapeutic stress reliever. And some of the poems were very good!
Our content is made to help students learn, but our own team happens to also learn a lot through the content. What’s one thing you’ve learned from a Newsela article that took you by surprise?
I am still in touch with my inner-4th grader and am captivated by anything with a strong yuck factor. As such, I was curious to read our article Mythbusting Ancient Rome: The Truth About the Roman Vomitorium. Apparently a fifth-century philosopher made up the term to describe the passageways inside Roman amphitheaters through which spectators would spew forth to exit. While the 4th grade me was disappointed, the grown-up wordsmith was seriously impressed.
To see more of Jenny’s thinking -- and what it takes to encourage global citizenship in students today -- read our blog post about the importance of reading engagement.