News Media Alliance announced the winners of its first “Top 30 Under 30” Awards program at mediaXchange 2016 in April, which honors young leaders working in every aspect of the news media who are contributing to the future success of the industry. Over the next several weeks we will feature profiles on the winners, highlighting their work and ideas, and how they’re helping the industry grow and evolve.
Mark Pan is a teacher.
He is a partnership strategist at education technology startup Newsela. Prior to joining the news media world, he taught for a few years in Hong Kong and Malaysia. But his passion remains education. While teaching, he realized that there was a huge pool of resources that students and teachers didn’t have access to.
He says Newsela fills the critical space in childhood education. At work, he decides what content to break down and put in front of school children.
“I have the luxury of working at the very beginning,” he says. “I’m really excited to see where the synergy between media companies and education companies is.”
He decides what the content should be, and what would interest students. Then he works with content providers to acquire rights to that content. Pan scaled the partnership model and conducts analyses to guide Newsela toward areas of content outside of news. There are partnerships with AP, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Scientific American.
At Newsela, the mantra is “teachers first.” He says every decision he makes is evaluated by that mantra. His goal is to unlock the written word for everyone.
“I love how immediately applicable and tangible [my decisions] are on students,” he says. “It’s a pretty neat feeling.”
Pan is one of News Media Alliance’s Top 30 Under 30 award winners. He was only four months on the job when he was nominated. Before Newsela he worked at online college education provider Coursera. He says the market for adult education materials and children educational materials is very different.
“The adult learning market is much more homogenous,” he says. He says childhood education isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Pan is analyzing which article traits interest students most and inspire them to finish reading an article. He says content about animals does well, but he wants to find a certain way to build an article that it is interesting, regardless of the topic. He is drilling down into what makes students tick. Is it about including greater or fewer quotations, or greater or fewer facts and numbers?
At Newsela, the content’s vocabulary and sentence structure is modified, a process called “leveling.”
“There’s no such thing as a student being more of a science guy or math girl,” he says. “It’s all about how we make it interesting to them. If you take a news article written for an adult audience, that content could be made interesting to someone of the second or fourth grade reading level as well.”