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Working together can make a difference

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by Stan Zoller, MJE
Maybe we should take a cue from our brethren in sports.

Let’s win one for the Gipper.

All for one and one for all.

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

As journalism educators, we strive for excellence in our individual programs and thrive on the recognition we get when our students excel. We also appreciate the recognition for our own professional efforts.

But when programs come under fire – whether it’s censorship, prior review, prior restraint or whatever, there is strength in numbers. If you are in a multi-school district, make sure the student media advisers get together on a regular basis during the school year to discuss how things are going – and not just bemoaning the fact that deadlines are not being met.

I heard about a district where there was an edict handed down to yearbooks that not all of the yearbook advisers knew about it. It turns out it was focused on one yearbook, and not the others in the district. Interestingly enough, the discussion about covering non-school sponsored teams did not, so I was told, apply to newspapers because “they’re different.”

It’s essential to make sure decisions regarding any student media are shared with all student media. If you are not in a multi-school district, trying connecting with other area advisers to see what issues, if any, they may be facing. Not sure which route to go? Take a look at the conference your athletic teams compete in and use that as a springboard for an advisers forum.

Make sure too that you include advisers with all levels of experience. Advisers with extensive tenure should not dominate because they’ve been teaching for decades. New advisers bring new ideas and the exchange among veterans and newbies can not only be invigorating, but helpful as well. Go beyond the “I” and make sure you incorporate plenty of “we” in your advisers group.

And as is the case with any team, a combination of rookies and veterans can really make things happen.

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Issues worth building lessons around

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sprclogoAs we head into a break for the holidays, three issues and concepts stand out as worth some future  consideration.

• The First Amendment: In the land of the free, why are schools afraid of freedom by Charles Haynes.
Written by this First Amendment advocate following the JEA/NSPA Washington, DC, convention, the column challenges us all to question administrator misuse of First Amendment. The article cites instances of prior review to limit discussion of ideas and groups and the elimination of some groups from school student media coverage while permitting others. The last time I checked, ordering blanket silence on some groups served no educational value or pedagogy. Haynes likened this process as a fear of freedom and questioned such philosophy as a misplaced attempt to either make schools safe. He also urged all journalism programs in schools subject to prior review – or restraint – to build a campaign to end it. You certainly would have a legion of supporters.

• The epic Rolling Stone gang-rape fallout – and how major publications get it wrong. This is only one of many resources on this coverage that violated one of journalism’s basic principles: verify your information and ensure your sources are credible. Citing the premonition “something just doesn’t feel right” about a story, author Terrence McCoy leads with the story of Richard Bradley feeling the gang rape reported in Rolling Stone did not happen. Bradley, it seems, had some experience with this kind of thing before. He once edited Stephen Glass, McCoy wrote.

In a rush to get a seemingly wonderful story into print, journalists will not verify a story or have the right sources. Because such incidents happen more than we would like to admit, we must stress scholastic reporters like others have to go beyond pre-existing bias or view and learn to apply skills of skeptical knowing or crap-detecting or just plan digging to every story, every day and across every platform. It’s an ongoing lesson never to be dropped from our curricula or from our practices.

• A toolkit by the solutions journalism network and Pulitzer Center. This material caught my eye because it focuses on something we do not do enough of: Perspective reporting and identifying sources who strive for solutions. Historians have long said those who don’t learn about an issue or concept as destined to repeat it. Is it because journalists don’t do enough follow-up reporting, add enough perspective and address solutions? This particular piece might be just the right tool at the right time to help us not only report but to keep solutions or alternatives in the public’s eye. It’s certainly worth our time to investigate the concept and give its points a shakedown cruise. Even if our students do not deal with international issues, the principles and concepts presented are worth localization. Introducing at the scholastic level just might help students, whether they become commercial journalists or not, begin to know we need to think in terms of solutions as much as issues identification.

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December 15 deadline for FAFPA Award application

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by John Bowen
The deadline is approaching for application for this year’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award (FAPFA). If your staffs have received a Pacemaker or Gold Crown, FAPFA is the next logical step in recognizing journalistic excellence and practice of First Amendment guarantees.

In its 15th year, the recognition is designed to identify and recognize high schools that actively support and protect First Amendment rights of their students and teachers. The honor focuses on press freedoms.
The application can be completed by using a SurveyGizmo form. Deadline for submission is Dec. 15, 2014.
Schools will be recognized at the 2015 Spring National JEA/NSPA High School Journalism Convention in Denver.
To be recognized by JEA, NSPA and Quill and Scroll, schools must successfully complete two rounds of questions about the degree of First Amendment Freedoms student journalists have and how the school recognizes and supports the First Amendment. Entries will be evaluated by members of these organizations.
As in previous years, high schools will compete for the title by first answering questionnaires directed to an adviser and at least one editor; those who advance to the next level will be asked to provide responses from the principal and  advisers and student editors/news directors of all student media.
In Round 2, semifinalists will submit samples of the publications and their printed editorial policies.
We’d love to see a record number of applications, and winners, especially given the great turnout at the Washington, DC, convention just now ending.
FAPFA is awarded annually and previous winners must reapply for continued recognition.
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‘Broken Glass’ should serve as a solemn reminder

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Lessons of Kristallnacht go beyond the history books

by Stan Zoller
sprclogoImagine if you will, that one day your administration comes in and without cause, dismantles your journalism classroom, publication office, and burns every copy of your newspaper and yearbook.

Then, without provocation or notice, the administration corralls your student media staff and yourself and threatens you with termination and your students with expulsion.

All because of who you were and the fact that you and your students advocated and used a voice.

Sound preposterous?

Sure it does.

But in fact it has happened.

Monday, Nov. 10, was the 75th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht,’ often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” The events of Nov. 9 – 10 were an effort by the Third Reich to round up and arrest more than 30,000 Jews and destroy as much of the property as possible.   In addition to destroying homes and personal property, synagogues were targeted as well as their contents.

While Kristallnacht is often connected to broken glass, a focus of the attacks was on the books by Jewish authors. Fires raged throughout Germany as books were burned.

For those journalism educators who teach J-1, a primary lesson focuses, of course, on the First Amendment. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. How simple is that? And how many times has a young journalist rolled their eyes as they strain to remember them.

It’s easy to forget when there are other things to do – like Tweet, eat, and, of course, meet a deadline.

It’s easy to forget when we are fortunate to have freedom of expression, even if it’s challenged by an overzealous administration.

But the reality is that we can’t forget, which is why Holocaust awareness efforts often include the phrases ‘Never Forget’ or ‘Never Again.’

Cynics will say it’s a “Jewish thing” and an isolated case, but if you take a deep breath and look what at transpired after Kristallnacht, it was more than a “Jewish thing.”

Perhaps as a devout and practicing Jew I am more sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust and the events leading up to it. Like Kristallnacht.

But I am a career journalist and a journalism educator, so I have had the luxury to practice what the Germans tried to take away 75 years ago.

The images and stories of Kristallnacht are chilling, as are most stories associated with the Holocaust. It’s the lessons, however, that we need to take away.

The intent of Kristallnacht, historians say, was to silence the Jews, eradicate their freedom of expression, destroy their freedom of speech, keep them from assembly, let alone their right to petition. As for the freedom of the press – nonexistent.

Nazi Germany did not have First Amendment rights. Imagine if you will, what life would be like in the United States if we did not have First Amendment rights.

Imagine if you will, coming to school and facing the chaos of a Kristallnacht. You probably can’t. The lessons associated with the First Amendment need to go beyond rote memorization. Students, whether in a journalism class or civics class need to understand what life would be like if we did not have First Amendment rights. They also need to imagine what it would be like if prior review and prior restraint were government mandated daily routines to silence student voices and reprimand those who taught students to have that voice.

Sure, it’s “only” 45 words, but the power behind them is unprecedented as is our right to practice them.

Perhaps educators and student journalists – or maybe all journalists need to reflect on that when Kristallnacht is remembered.

Because when you think about it, it’s not just a “Jewish thing.”

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Apply now for national First Amendment award

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by John Bowen
Applications are now available for this year’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award (FAPFA).

In its 15th year, the recognition is designed to identify and recognize high schools that actively support and protect First Amendment rights of their students and teachers. The honor focuses on press freedoms.
The application can be completed by using a SurveyGizmo form. Deadline for submission is Dec. 15, 2014.
Schools will be recognized at the 2015 Spring National JEA/NSPA High School Journalism Convention in Denver.
To be recognized by JEA, NSPA and Quill and Scroll, schools must successfully complete two rounds of questions about the degree of First Amendment Freedoms student journalists have and how the school recognizes and supports the First Amendment. Entries will be evaluated by members of these organizations.
As in previous years, high schools will compete for the title by first answering questionnaires directed to an adviser and at least one editor; those who advance to the next level will be asked to provide responses from the principal and  advisers and student editors/news directors of all student media.
In Round 2, semifinalists will submit samples of the publications and their printed editorial policies.
We’d love to see a record number of applications, and winners, especially given the great turnout at the Washington, DC, convention just now ending.
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The scary truth about our own confidence

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By Megan Fromm, CJE

With Halloween just days away, ghost hunters and spooky pranksters are out in full force. But for journalists, there’s still something scarier than a grim reaper or a bad Miley Cyrus costume: errors in fact.

Photo by Dawn Ellner, used with Creative Commons license.

Photo by Dawn Ellner, used with Creative Commons license.

And while fact-checking is a common and methodical way to ensure accuracy in reporting, experts are now pointing to a more personal attribute that often stands in the way of truth. Simply put, researchers have found that each of us has the propensity to be a “confident idiot,” meaning we often overestimate our expertise on any given subject. 

Instead of admitting to our own ignorance, we can be duped into thinking we know things we don’t, or that we have knowledge that actually exceeds our current understanding of a topic or concept.

For many journalists, acknowledging this Achille’s heal is an important step in becoming adept, truth-seeking reporters—when we stop assuming we know so much, we start looking for better and more specific information. After all, what good is a five-step fact-checking process if we’re unlikely to believe we could get something wrong in the first place?

Named the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” this common inability for humans to recognize our own ineptitude has serious implications for journalists and for news media consumers.

As a journalist, understanding this phenomenon means that I will be slightly more skeptical of how “authoritative” my sources seems. It means that I’ll delve more critically into their own claims of fact and be sure to investigate my source’s background to determine his/her real level of expertise.

For student journalists, this is especially vital. How many times have students overstated knowledge of a certain event or situation? Our students want to trust their peers, and their peers are likely to exaggerate connections. Knowing this, and taking steps to mitigate it, keeps journalistic integrity intact.

Ask your student journalists to brainstorm a list of “experts” on different topics at your school. Then, compile a master list, “vetting” those experts by getting as much background information as possible.

As news and media consumers, we must first acknowledge our own propensity to be “confident idiots.” (Here’s a touch of irony: I even vastly overestimated my ability to write this post in the time I had allotted myself. Turns out the researchers were right!).

This means I should be willing to evaluate my own knowledge base before assuming others are (or are not) experts. I might ask myself what experience or education is most relevant to the news and information I receive, and I would try to be honest about my personal deficits, filling in the gaps as necessary.

While it’s scary to think we might be so out of touch with our own intelligence, a little due diligence (and sometimes a light-hearted reality check) can go a long way.

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