Posts made in March 15th, 2010

Team McCandless

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Wentzville Board Meeting
So over the past six months or so, the students and teacher at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Mo. have undergone some terrible tribulations at the hands of their administrators. Stories pulled in multiple issues, oversight of the yearbook, panel photos pulled from said yearbook in March, when there is little that can be done to change them in the book. The list of transgressions has been well publicized.

And that last sentence is the silver lining in this awful cloud of censorship. The students and parents of adviser Cathy McCandless have responded admirably and forcefully to this situation.

At last check, their Facebook group, Team McCandless, has 585 members. A Wentzville parent has also created a blog – www.stop-ths-censorship.blogspot.com – that catalogs much of the grievances of parents and publication students as well as encouraging people to action.

In meetings with administration, yearbook students are starting to see some victories in their discussions with the administrators.

And perhaps most important, they are taking their arguments where they can have impact: the board of education. This Thursday, a group of parents, students, alumni and teachers will be attending the Wentzville Board of Education – me included – in order to let the decision makers know their thoughts about what has transpired. I’m hoping to have thoughts on this site that evening, as well as perhaps some photos. One of the members of the Student Partners, Ted Noelker, will also be attending this event.

While I know this has been a terribly trying, taxing time for Cathy, it has to be heart warming to know she’s done a good job teaching her students about their rights as student journalists and, in turn, her students have taught their parents enough about their rights to, hopefully, do something about it.

After talking with Cathy, I know she’s somewhat hopeful the tide may turn back towards her students favor. Hopefully, a big showing on Thursday will help sway the board of education and district administrators to see reason.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall: leadership in the digital age

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Expanding scholastic journalism into the digital environment is like delving into the world of fantasy, complete with magic mirrors that enlighten and show implications for the future and connections to the past.

Our dilemma is how to decide what traditional journalism standards are worthy of transfer to the magical world of digital media and, in particular, whether those standards include editorial leadership and extended reporting.

It’s still the mirror versus the candle debate — should journalists simply reflect reality to their audiences or should they shine light into the dark corners and make their world a better place?  Our new tools — all those digital bells and whistles —  offer leadership opportunities  but also hold challenges to that leadership.

Even now, in digital media’s initial stages of growth, a quick check of school Web sites shows a number do not publish staff editorials. Some do not expand their reporting beyond that of  showing what surrounds them. What is reported includes cafeteria menus, game scores and requests to get involved in school activities. In some cases it’s even hard to differentiate between fact and opinion writing. The I dominates the we of editorial leadership.

JEA president Jack Kennedy said possible causes for the disappearance of editorial leadership in scholastic journalism could include:
• students are scared.
• advisers are scared.
• everyone is turned off by the proliferation of ill-considered rhetoric in the media.
• we (students and advisers) are not very comfortable with persuasive essay style.
• readers simply do not look to their own student press for leadership.

How these sites and online media in general will perform a classic leadership role isn’t clear yet. But unless we take time to address leadership issues, including those above or ones similar, scholastic journalism’s potential will be thwarted. The future effectiveness of student media may well depend directly on how they employ today’s standards in creating content for new media.

Should those standards be like the traditional mirror or candle, or should we create some new blend? How will student media lead? Or will they?

Part 3 will examine possibilities and offer some direction.

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