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Some of you aren’t going to like this

Posted by on Jan 6, 2019 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 2 comments

by Candace Bowen, MJE
Yes, it’s true. I’m going to question a concept scholastic media latched onto and often treats like the solution to all media problems. We got it from commercial media and have adopted it passionately: It’s storytelling.

And, yes, it certainly has some value, but it has some pitfalls we and our students sometimes overlook. Big pitfalls.

But first a bit of back story.

About 20 years ago, a fellow high school journalism teacher from Iowa and I were teaching “fact-based American journalism” to teens in Prague and Bratislava. These were two-week boot camps with about 30 students at each site, sponsored by Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros and his Open Society Foundations. Because not all of our students spoke English, we had support from interpreters.

The ones in Prague were excellent, majoring in this at Charles University and very serious about being accurate. Of course, they had no journalism background, so many nights they double checked their understanding and jargon with some of their friends who were studying to be reporters.

That’s how, on about the third day, they sought us out before the group session started. “We’ve been translating something wrong,” Lucie said apologetically. “And we should have known better.”

She explained that when we sometimes used the word “story” in our descriptions of what the students would be writing for the end-of-the-workshop newspaper, they were translating it as “příběh,“ which referred to fiction, but it should be “reportáž,“ which means news story, the factual reporting we were trying to teach.

Ever since then, a small part of me twitches when I hear journalists talk endlessly about “stories” and “storytelling.” I try to be very careful with my freshman news majors, making it clear all they will do is based on fact.

Thus when I read a tweet from New York University professor and media critic Jay Rosen* a week or so ago, it struck a chord. I happened to see one of several tweets he had about the problems with the term “storytelling”:

“I don’t know how our journalists came to see ‘storytelling’ as the heart of what they do, and ‘storyteller’ as a self-description. I can think of 4-5 elements of journalism more central than ‘story.’ Truthtelling, grounding public conversation in fact, verificationlistening.” (The boldface is mine.)

Then another much-followed media expert, Jeff Jarvis*, who was, by the way, an award-winning high school journalist in his younger days, shared articles and tweets about a German newspaper situation, “The Spiegel Scandal and the Seduction of Storytelling.”There 33-year-old reporter Claas Relotius made up “article after article” because, as he told his editors, he was “motivated by fear of failure.”

Yes, it sounds like Jason Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke. But Jarvis goes on to explore this more thoroughly through articles in German media about Relotius and his fabrications. Jarvis translates and quotes “A Beautiful Lie,” an essay by Bernhard Pörksen’s in Die Zeit: “What shows up here is called the narrative distortion, story bias. You have the story in your head, you know what sound readers or colleagues want to hear. And you deliver what works.”

Both Jarvis and Rosen write about the problem with the phrase “getting the story” or “getting a quote for the story.” It’s a concept I have warned students to avoid. It sends the message to me that the student isn’t reporting the facts, telling what’s really going on as much as he or she is following a formula – narrative arc, starting and ending with a representative person, using quotes to make it real and move the story along.

All those devices can be fine. They can help attract readers who might otherwise just click on or flip to something else. It gives the situation a face that grabs the attention of today’s often fickle audience.

But it needs to be used sparingly and carefully.

*Rosen had 245K followers on Twitter and Jarvis has 169K.

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Bringing light to relevant issues, past and present, defines journalistic leadership

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Lessons, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by John Bowen, MJE
“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail
“Blowing in the Wind
“Find the Cost of Freedom
Ohio
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone

How do these lyrics and titles relate to scholastic journalism?

  • They all came at a time when people questioned the media, its role and its leadership.
  • They all came at a time when citizens and journalists complained of government mis-, dis and censored information.
  • They all came at a time when activism and protest – from multiple viewpoints – clouded not only the truth on timely issues but also many people’s minds.

Sound familiar?

Fifty years ago, The U. S. Supreme Court upheld students wearing of black armbands as protected speech during the Vietnam war. That war also spawned events and issues that continued to bring activists, protestors and media together.

The war brought new levels of violence against expression some called unAmerican. “America, love it or leave it” was a forerunner of today’s “Enemy of the State.”

Such verbiage frustrated citizens who sought the truth about issues: The Pentagon Papers. MyLai 4. Lt. William Calley. May 4, 1970. The impact of drugs.

2018 and 2019 highlight a tumultuous new era with key similarities to the past.

Distrust of government and news media. Who tells the truth? Whom can citizens believe? Who lies?

And the current issues: Availability of guns, health, drugs, the environment, misinformation and lying. Growing amounts of stress in student lives.

Sound familiar?

We began to learn from Mary Beth and John Tinker and others who opened the schoolhouse gates to free expression, social awareness and creation of change. Free speech and press are important.

If we truly believe the social responsibility role of the news media is an essential partner with freedom – at all levels – we will empower student journalists to seek the truth, to dig for the whole story and to always question authority. They then question what authority tells society as the Tinkers and others modeled 50 years ago.

Reporting will add new meaning to journalistic leadership, advocacy and solutions.

Consider, as a New Year’s resolution, expanding your journalistic studies to include current issues as well as their historical perspectives. Content choices include:

And, as we move into 2019, the hammers, not the nails, will bring clearer insight and exert stronger leadership in today’s societal issues.

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A (written) step toward more faculty support

Posted by on Dec 17, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Lindsay Coppens
In good times and bad times, having faculty support can go a long way in ensuring student press rights.

Towards the beginning of each year, but sometimes when we’re nearing the end of semester one,  I send an email to the faculty and staff to thank them for their support, to reinforce that the publication is, in fact, student-run (despite being a student newspaper, many community members  assume that I make editorial decisions) and to guide their concerns and communication directly toward student editors.

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Stop being afraid

Posted by on Dec 3, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Cyndi Hyatt
The media is under attack.  Although friction between the press and the President is nothing new (John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon all had a cantankerous relationship with the press) this current labeling journalists as the “Enemy of the People” has far reaching effects that may even trickle down to student journalism.

In an era of fear and uncertainty, high school and college students are afraid to express themselves openly because of the possibility of making someone else feel offended or uncomfortable or of fueling heated debate or of being accused of faking the news.  

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Trickling down hits the news room

Posted by on Nov 26, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller, MJE
The Ronald Reagan presidency, if nothing else, introduced the United State to “trickle-down economics,” which was described as a method by which “… benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains and dividends.”

It could be described that government edicts would, in the long run,  be the rule of thumb for everyone.

Some pundits still debate the effectiveness of “trickle-down economics” even though Reagan’s eight years as president ended 29 years ago.

Old political stands die hard.

Under the current administration, journalists and journalism educators may be experience “trickle down journalism” in which the condescending attacks on journalism by the Trump Administration are trickling down to the general population.

For journalism educators, especially scholastic journalism educators, the trickle down may be hitting administrators.

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Lack of media diversity creates problems for democracy

Posted by on Nov 18, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Candace Bowen, MJE
Columbia Journalism Review is focusing on diversity in this fall’s print issue and online site— not the diversity of inclusion or the diversity that just gives us more voices. In the intro to the Fall 2018 issue,author Jelani Cobb, director of Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Human Rights, says now it’s more than that. She shows how journalists are just plain missing the story.

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