Nicole Avery Nichols — the editor who has led COVID-19 coverage and other important work for nearly two decades at the Detroit Free Press — has been named editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, the nationwide journalism nonprofit dedicated to telling the story of American education.
Avery Nichols has been an editor at the Free Press since 2003 and has supervised coverage, as she puts it, “from courts and corruption to immigration, race, gender, public health, pop culture, politics and much more.”
“I will always cherish my experiences working at the Detroit Free Press,” she says. “I have worked with and learned from some of the most talented and dedicated journalists in the business. In all the ways that matter, Detroit has helped prepare me for whatever comes next.”
“This is an incredible opportunity for Nicole, one she richly deserves,” Free Press Editor and Vice President Peter Bhatia said. “Chalkbeat has become a major player in education coverage. They have picked a great leader and someone we will truly miss.
“Nicole isn’t just a fantastic journalist. She has been an effective and valued partner in pushing the Free Press forward on matters journalistic and especially in our ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts. Her influence is felt every day in our work and in how we operate as a news organization. I will miss her wise and candid counsel,” Bhatia said.
Avery Nichols started her career as a weekend reporter at the Utica Observer-Dispatch in upstate New York more than 25 years ago. From the start, and throughout her work at several newspapers and magazines, she has been committed to creating space for underrepresented people within the realm of mainstream media.
In 2020, she was named the “Working in the Spirit of Diversity” awardee by Wayne State University in Detroit.
One of her most memorable assignments was covering Aretha Franklin’s funeral in August 2018 when she was “cut loose” from her editing chair to provide live commentary.
“On an historic day, on the outside of a mega-church in one of the poorest cities in America, everything was perfect,” Avery Nichols wrote. “People laughed, and choked back tears. Music boomed from a motorcycle, as the scent of fried chicken weighted the air. A thin girl, in a white jumpsuit, kicked-off a hustle in the street.”
“These are the moments that inspire me,” she says, “real life, regular folk and the beauty that emerges from those things.”
Avery is from Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she was a member of the Marching Crimson Piper Band (and played trombone). She has a master’s degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Avery Nichols is married to journalist Darren Nichols, and they have twins who will be teenagers soon.
Chalkbeat has bureaus in major cities across the country, including Detroit. Some of its content appears in the Free Press. Avery Nichols’ last day editing at the Free Press is Feb. 5.
“I am honored to be joining the journalists at Chalkbeat as editor-In-chief, particularly at such a critical time for American education,” Avery Nichols says. “The coronavirus pandemic has challenged students, parents and educators, in ways that could not have been previously imagined. It is now even more vital to amplify the stories that emerge at the intersection of education, equity, policy and culture.”