Posts made in March 16th, 2010

Lighting the way: leadership for the future

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The New York Times reported on a crisis mapping operation involving what it called everyone-as-informant March 12.  The Times article reported the operation suggested a new paradigm for humanitarian work.

This project, shaped to fit the needs of scholastic journalism, suggests a viable paradigm for scholastic new media to lead, not only through content but also opinion.

Such an approach would blend the mirror and candle theories into one  tool rooted in a journalistic sense of leadership.

And that, said Jan Leach, assistant professor of journalism at Kent State University, former Ethics Fellow at The Poynter Institute and editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, is a perfect role for effective news media.

“The news media lead by providing information that can help audiences with the urgent and the mundane aspects of their lives,” Leach said. “This includes helping audiences make decisions on everything from candidates and issues to decisions on real estate, schools, movies and purchases.”

What Leach talks about would include:
• A strong publication voice calling for action or explaining issues and events. In a case like the Times noted, explaining why action was needed and how to accomplish it.
• Thorough reporting that explained the significance of the issues, events or problems and how to become involved and resources placing the events into perspective.
• Opportunities for involvement and interaction so members of the various affected communities could help each other or answer a call to action.

That fulfills the candle theory.

The mirror theory is also fulfilled through more mundane coverage of events, people and issues that affect people’s lives daily.

Leach sees a strong and active editorial presence as essential in this blended process.

“Newspapers and online operations that have regular, forceful editorial pages are providing steady, if controversial, leadership,” she said. “Those that are inconsistent or wishy-washy in their opinions are less reliable in terms of leadership. People look for the studied opinion, the additional information, the weighing of all sides.”

Let’s say during Scholastic Journalism Week JEA or another journalistic group (including a student one) uses the mapping model to track one day of prior restraint or review  across the nation. Students, facing review or  restraint, could publish to one core location details, topics, reasons given, and who is reviewing. Reported information could then be assembled and reported to give a national snapshot of issues scholastic journalists face. Individual student media could develop coverage to show the depth of the problem and take a strong position with national data to support their position.

The process could be replicated for any common issues or topics schools face. And, it could be reported and editorialized by scholastic media working individually or in collaboration.

In short, scholastic journalism’s obligation to lead is a function of strong content and editorial presence, no matter what media.

Leadership does not need to be seen as a piece of the past but as an integral aspect of journalism’s future, lighting the way.

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