Scholastic Journalism

Documenting biodiversity in Chicagoland

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Third in a 10 part series of student journalists Making a Difference

In Carolyn Fritts journalistic writing course, at Glenbard West High School, in Glen Ellyn, Ill., she requires students to a research local topic and produce a comprehensive film documentary as their final exam.

Students set out to discover what happens to Chicago when the ecosystem collapses and what can happen when individuals take measures to protect and promote biodiversity.  “The Loss of Biodiversity in the Chicagoland Area” captures the ravages of urban sprawl.

Biodiversity in urban settings decreases with urban sprawl. Urban amphibians are the first victims. Students looked at how scientists are trying to return flora and fauna back to its most natural state.

This 15-minute documentary shows the devastation to the wild life in the 370,000-acre area in the Chicagoland area and how ecologists work to reverse the devastation. Featuring interviews with naturalists and ecologists, these student journalists tell the story of ways professionals even use fire to restore habitats to clear out the invasive species to help the habitat heal itself.

According to Fritts, the students had to “interview two experts concerning their topic, conduct extensive background research, film footage to supplement the documentary’s narrative, and provide voice overs to incorporate research.”

Making a difference is not just about reporting the intensely controversial topics that surround schools, but searching out stories that impact the environment around the schools. The students at Glenbard High School have done this.

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North Dakota introduces legislation
to protect student expression

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sprclogoWith North Dakota’s introduction of a freedom of expression bill Jan. 19, student journalists in other states might want to know how to work on legislation in their states.

The John Wall New Voices Act is designed to protect student First Amendment rights both public high schools and public and private colleges.

Seven states have passed legislation protecting student expression at the scholastic levels, and Illinois protects college-level speech.

Students or advisers interested in obtaining materials to consider working on legislation can check these resources:

SPLC model legislation to protect student free expression rights
SPLC map and model guidelines for legislation
JEA/SPRC Blueprint for state legislation

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Scholastic journalists often
face demands like Delauter’s

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by Mark Goodman
I strongly encourage every student publication adviser being told his or her students can’t use names or photos in their print or online publications because of FERPA (or some other manufactured privacy justification) to read the Frederick News Post’s editorial on this crazy Frederick County council member, Kirby Delauter, and his demand for media not to use his name without permission.
The parallels between this guy’s demand (now rescinded) and what many high school journalists experience is remarkable.  How do you write about students at school and the public things they do there if you can’t identify them?
Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh said it best (he’s quoted in the editorial):
Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.” You know, that whole First Amendment thing.
Wish we could convey that message to more school officials and their attorneys.
For additional information:
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There’s a reason we need to
‘be bold and stand firm’

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by Stan Zoller
The 18-word Tweet said it all.

“This attack on freedom of speech and freedom of press must not be tolerated. Be bold. Stand firm.”

And so it is, another militant organization seeks to spew its venom on innocent people because of ideological differences. This one goes far beyond the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Where this one hits home for all of us is that we have the opportunity practice what we teach – freedom of the press.

It’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on the times an administrator has subjected us to prior review or prior restraint for seemingly unsubstantiated reasons, except for the fact that they disagree, or they fear higher level authorities.

Yes, it’s annoying and yes it challenges the very fabric of what most journalism educators teach. Many, so it seems, go with the flow out of fear for their jobs.

As you watch the coverage of the massacre in Paris you may come to the realization that in the scope of things, we have it easy.

We can establish a dialogue with stakeholders in our student media to argue and maybe even resolve our differences without fearing for our lives.

Ten staff members of Charlie Hebdo who dared to have an opinion and two police officers who dared to do their job didn’t have the same luck.

It might be a good time for journalism educators, especially those at the high school level, to take a break for social media, story planning and – yikes – even deadlines, to spend a class or two looking at journalists who died simply because they were journalists – simply because they sought the truth – simply because they wanted transparency.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists were killed last year. Since 1992, the CPJ reports that 1,101 journalists have been killed. Some were killed covering war zones, others because they were journalists.

All because they were practicing freedom of the press.

And so it bears repeating: “This attack on freedom of speech and freedom of press must not be tolerated. Be bold. Stand firm.”

And consider yourself fortunate.

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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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