Becky Vevea
  • WBEZ
  • Becky Vevea

When Chicago Public Media was working up its annual budget earlier this year, there was a hot debate inside WBEZ over whether it could get by with one education reporter or should hang on to two—Linda Lutton, the staff beat reporter, and Becky Vevea, a freelancer who’d filled in while Lutton was embedded last fall at Harper High on behalf of This American Life. It was a huge year for education in Chicago, with first a teachers’ strike and then a massive wave of school closings to cover and make sense of. Vevea was indispensable all year, and Lutton led the charge for keeping her, going so far as to make her case in a letter to the board of directors.

In the end, a compromise of sorts was arrived at: Vevea was hired as a producer. This at least kept her at the station, if not specifically to cover schools.

The quality of the education reporting that Lutton and Vevea provided WBEZ’s audience with when they worked together was just made pretty clear. On Sunday night, the Third Coast International Audio Festival issued its annual awards at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and Harper High School won the Gold Award for best documentary. The award named Lutton, producer Ben Calhoun, and reporter Alex Kotlowitz, as well as Ira Glass, Julie Snyder, and Robyn Semien of This American Life.

A few days earlier, NPR station WBUR in Boston named Vevea this year’s winner of the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize for her coverage of the school closings. WBUR cited WBEZ for becoming a “go-to source nationally” on the story and said “Vevea’s coverage broadened the conversation around closing the schools, and it added a human voice to what was largely a top-down decision made by politicians and [bureaucrats].” One judge called Vevea’s work “incisive and poignant.”