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Cathie Black as NYC Schools Chancellor: HUH??

Nine lessons for Black as she transitions from magazines to education.


Jason Fell By Jason Fell
11/10/2010 -12:00 PM






New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement yesterday that he had named Hearst Magazines chairman and former longtime president Cathie Black as chancellor of New York City Schools had a number of people in the media industry, as well as a few NYC-based parents, scratching their heads. Granted, Black had a lot of success overseeing Hearst, one of the largest consumer magazine publishing companies in the country. But how does that qualify her to lead NYC’s public school system?

Just look at this morning’s NYC newspaper covers [pictured]. As the New York Daily News pointed out, Black—a Manhattan resident—sent her two children to private school, in Connecticut. And, not to mention, the New York City Department of Education consists of more than 1,600 schools that serve about 1.1 million students each year. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there may be a few more moving parts there than at Hearst.

No doubt about it: Black has a BIG challenge ahead of her. One can hope that she will swiftly squash all the nay-sayers with positive results among NYC’s schools. (As am New York says: ‘Don’t screw it up.’)

In the meantime, anonymous media blogger Dead Tree Edition has some important (er, more tongue-in-cheek) advice for Black as she readies for her big transition. Here’s his piece, reposted by permission here:

9 Differences Between a School System and a Publishing Company: Lessons for Cathie Black

One is full of spoiled brats. The other has lots of children.

That's one of the differences between publishing companies and school systems that Cathie Black of Hearst Magazine will need to keep in mind as she makes the transition, announced today, from a career running newspaper and magazine companies to becoming chancellor of New York City Schools.

Here are eight more subtle distinctions between a publisher and a public school systems she'll need to keep in mind:

1. School systems are not-for-profit agencies by design. Newspapers are no-profit organizations despite all their efforts to be otherwise.
2. For schools, the largest inflow of funds is from state and local governments that always seem to be screwing them out of some money. For magazine publishers, the largest outflow of money is for postage, which also involves an indifferent bureaucracy that always seems to be screwing them out of money.
3. For a school system, a new student means more state and federal aid. For a publisher, a new subscriber means less net revenue (because the marketing charges more than the subscriber pays).
4. Schools have math classes that make kids feel like idiots as soon as they open a textbook and try to understand algebra. Magazine publishers have blow-in cards that make newsstand customers feel like idiots as soon as they open a copy and see they could have saved 90% by buying a subscription.
5. Public schools offer free education to all. Publishers charge some customers for their content, then give it away to others on their Web sites.
6. School systems issue diplomas of dubious significance. Publishers issue statements of “paid” circulation.
7. Schools are often judged by meaningless metrics, such as how their sports teams do and what proportion of the students take SATs. Publications have their own meaningless metrics, like awards and newsstand sales.
8. Schools are run by principals. Publications are run by advertising salesmen, who have no principles.

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