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Ethical coverage is contextual and relevant

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by Megan Fromm
A recent discussion on the JEAHELP  listserv focused on whether students can, and should, write about international news. With the crisis in Syria escalating, and the potential for an American strike more real than ever, high school journalists want to flex their international reporting muscles by covering the conflict in their scholastic media.

Students enjoy reporting on international affairs because in many ways, it makes them feel connected to events from which they would otherwise be totally disassociated. As their world perspectives widen, involvement in foreign politics helps them to develop their dispositions as global citizens.

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The post on news literacy is the second in a series of blogs that will run each Wednesday. Topics discussed, in order, will include FOIA, news literacy, journalism education, positive relationships with administrators, prior review, Making a Difference and private school journalism. We hope you will enjoy them. If you have other topics you feel we should address, please let us know.

In this way, engaging in media coverage of international affairs is a fantastic way to build students’ news and media literacy. The more they read and watch of the world beyond their school walls, the more they are likely to maintain this curiosity for information as they mature.

However, there are ways to cover international affairs in your scholastic publications that demonstrate both news literacy and relevancy for your school community. After all, the best and most ethical coverage is both contextual and relevant

With tremendous thanks to JEA’s fantastic membership, here are some tips from JEAHELP listserv members on how to encourage your students to cover international news in the most ethical, appropriate way:

1. Localize, localize, localize. Ask students: how can we connect something happening so far away to our own community? Who here, in this school, has a clear, immediate stake in what’s happening?
2.  Report, report, report. Covering international politics requires interviews and research just like any other story. Remind students that writing about the media is not news. What local experts could they interview? Who in their community has perspective and experience to offer?
3.  Consider secondary coverage. How can your students use infographics or other visual coverage to put international news in a local context? When information isn’t especially timely or local, alternative copy can help to humanize and localize.
4.  Don’t regurgitate Google. If students could find the information elsewhere, your publication becomes irrelevant. Tell the stories students can’t find anywhere else. 

Finally, advisers should remember that ethically and legally, content decisions in student publications that are designated public forums should ultimately be left in the hands of student editors. Encourage them to demonstrate the best reporting and news writing practices, and grade them accordingly if they fail to adhere to the standards for your publication. But telling students what to report, or not to report, facilitates neither good journalism nor news literacy.

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