Pages Navigation Menu

Make it matter: Scholastic journalism
must do more than give facts QT45

Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Kristin Taylor
How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it?

Professional journalists have struggled with this problem for years. Before the advent of the internet and social media, news producers — whether newspaper, radio or broadcast — were citizens’ primary source of information. News consumers found out about terrorists attacks and new government policies when they opened the morning paper or turned on the evening news.

In modern times, however, those gatekeepers have lost control. Now people have more information than they know what to do with. This flood of data creates a number of problems — especially in terms of helping people separate fact from fiction — but I want to focus today on the issue it creates in terms of engagement.

If news consumers have the facts about an event — or at least think they do — why should they care when the paper publishes a story about it? We hope they care because they trust traditional news sources to have a vetting process for their stories; unlike Tweets at 2 a.m., these stories have been fact-checked and include a variety of primary and expert sources to ensure truthfulness in a holistic sense. News literate consumers know the value of good journalism, we hope, and will therefore seek it out.

Beyond getting the facts right, good journalism has a larger responsibility to serve as sense-maker. “When most readers say they expect journalists to tell them what’s happening — whether that’s the latest outrages reported out of Kharkiv or city council in Kalamazoo — they mean connect the dots,” Ken Doctor writes. “No, they don’t want opinion — they want to know how the facts fit together to make an understandable whole.”

This is what sets major news sources such as the New York Times apart from local news sources, Doctor argues. “It’s authority,” he writes. “You read the Times to understand. Sometimes it does a better job of that than others, but its great success in reader revenue shows us its audience gets that part of the value equation. Yes, readers can get the facts of the Gaza War free in so many places, but they can’t get a volume of rich, contextual stories from both sides of the conflict elsewhere every day.”

In his essay “Journalism’s Moral Responsibility: Three Questions,” Bill Mitchell argues journalism has a moral obligation to cover important stories and help readers understand their importance. He poses three crucial questions:

  1. Do news organizations help citizens and communities, including political leaders, identify and respond to the most significant threats to well-being?
  2. Do news organizations pursue a well-grounded definition of what constitutes substantive coverage?
  3. Do news organizations take responsibility for how their work is pursued and how it is received?

The key, he argues, is to make important news salient. “In moral journalism, salient is more than important, interesting, or relevant. It’s more than selling a story that no one would otherwise read, or dumping it on an ignorant world with the righteous justification that it ought to be read. For journalists, Salient is a moral term, not a marketing one,” he writes. “Our moral responsibility is to cover significant threats to well-being, substantively, in such a way that our coverage leaps out, protrudes, and is strikingly and conspicuously prominent. So that it sears the conscience of our fellow citizens.”

He points to Laurel Leff’s research on the Times’ coverage of the Holocaust during 1939-1945. Leff found the Times did cover the Holocaust, but coverage tended to be on inside pages and was missing in editorial commentary and summaries of important news. In her report,

Leff writes, “Despite the detailed, credible information that was available, the American public actually did not know about the Holocaust while it was happening because mainstream American newspapers never presented the story of the extermination of the Jews in a way that highlighted its importance.” In other words, Mitchell concludes, “the Times had the story. It just didn’t make it salient.”

Mitchell’s essay aims at national and global news sources and news events on a much larger scale than those typical at a high school, clearly, but I believe this raises important questions for the moral responsibilities of scholastic journalists. If they want their reporting to matter — if they want their peers to read more than the humor columns or resta

Here are my suggestions for reworking Mitchell’s three questions for a scholastic journalism staff:

  1. Do you help members of the school community, including school and local leaders, identify and respond to the most significant problems affecting the community?
  2. Do you pursue a well-grounded definition of what constitutes substantive coverage, going beyond the who, what and where to explore how and why?
  3. Do you take responsibility for how your work is pursued

Although these questions are not a complete solution, they are a starting point for creating greater engagement without abandoning the most important stories.

Guideline:

Journalists should present relevant information in context so the audience has adequate information on which to base decisions. Context is just as important as factual accuracy and can help readers fully understand an issue and its relevance to their daily lives.

Social Media Post/Topic:

How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it? Make it salient.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Staff members should not only fact-check their information but should also ask themselves questions such as “What does this story mean to my readers?” and “What do I want my readers to take away from this information?” This means gathering not only the 5Ws and H but also connecting dots for readers by helping them see related ideas, important relationships or significant background information. By assuming a topic is new to readers, editors can revise from the perspective of the audience and look for any holes that might be present.

Suggestions

  • Reporters should address all 5Ws and H. Training materials and checklists in the staff manual also should address helping readers understand what the information means and why it’s significant.
  • Part of the process may including asking members with no prior knowledge of a story to give feedback before publication or airing on whether the information provided is clear and paints a full picture of what is happening.
  • The staff manual should include material about how to solicit feedback from readers about what kinds of stories, details or information they need in order to better understand current events and make content salient.
  • Student media staffs should label analysis and opinion content so readers understand these are not objective news pieces.

 

Resources:

Good stories provide context, American Press Institute

Informing the news: The need for knowledge-based reporting, Journalists’ Resource

The newsonomics of how and why, Nieman Lab

Journalism’s Moral Responsibility: Three Questions, Poynter

10 essential principles from The Elements of Journalism, American Press Institute

“Context” is the new flavor for journalism, The Pomo Blog

Fast-Paced Journalism’s Neglect of Nuance and Context, Nieman Report

Read More

Interviewing ‘people on the street’ QT43

Posted by on Jan 16, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Four categories of sources exist: experts, authorities, knowledgeable and reactors (sometimes called bozos). The first three should be credible. The last not so much.

Why ask “what do you think about the tax levy?” if the person has no knowledge at all?

If he has little background on the issues but says, “It’s not necessary because our teachers are overpaid already,” it might even hurt the value of the article if, indeed, your teachers are paid less than those in neighboring districts.

Instead, find experts or at least those with some experience — like a recent student who could talk to the lack of places to sit during her lunch period. 

Guideline:

Journalists, print, broadcast and online, need to conduct interviews. In choosing those they talk to, they should consider the knowledge of each carefully, Reactive sources, especially those with little knowledge of the issue, add little to the story and may even confuse the issue.  

Quick Tip

Social media post/question: Person on the street interviews add little and may even create problems. Why not seek more experts?

Stance: Although some student journalism outlets require a certain number of sources in any article — maybe two or three or five — the knowledge of those interviewed makes all the difference in their value. Using person on the street interviews often has little value and can be misleading. What reporters need are interviewees with at least some experience.

Reasoning/suggestions: Why ask “what do you think about the tax levy?” if the person has no knowledge at all? If he has little background on the issues but says, “It’s not necessary because our teachers are overpaid already,” it might even hurt the value of the article if, indeed, your teachers are paid less than those in neighboring districts.

Instead, find some experts or at least ask those with some experience — like a recent student who could talk to the lack of places to sit during her lunch period.

Resources: (Other places that you can find this information)

Has Mike Daisey illustrated how useless ‘man on the street’ interviews are?, Poynter

Do you care what the ‘man on the street’ has to say?, Chicago Tribune

Let’s say goodbye to the man on the street, John Kroll digital

 

Read More

The process of deciding staff editorials QT41

Posted by on Jan 7, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Teaching | 0 comments

Keys to effective editorials include focused positions, credible sources and meaningful topics. If the topic is focused on issues and problems, strong editorials include a call to action or possible solutions.

Ideas for topics should be discussed throughout the deadline cycle. The editorial board will select the topic, and a member of the editorial board will write it as an unsigned editorial.

In general, student reporters should consider reinforcing the importance of key stories with local impact and importance by preparing staff editorials that take a definitive stance.

Editorials are least effective and meaningful when they approach topics other than the  mundane.

Key points/action

Staff editorials, the position of the student media on topics of importance and interest, require thorough planning and credible sources and arguments for support.

Student media show leadership in many ways, and one of the most traditional is through concise, focused and authoritative statements of well argued and supported opinion that represents the institutional voice of the student media.

Stance

In general, student reporters should consider reinforcing the importance of key stories with local impact and importance by preparing staff editorials that take a definitive stance. Editorials are least effective and meaningful when they approach topics other than the mundane.

Such leadership pieces should not be exclusively negative or positive. They can offer solutions, alternatives, commendation and/or points for compromise. They should make statements and not ask questions.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Keys to effective editorials include focused positions, credible sources and meaningful topics. If the topic is focused on issues and problems, strong editorials include a call to action.

Ideas for topics should be discussed throughout the deadline cycle. The editorial board will select the topic, and a member of the editorial board will write it as an unsigned editorial.

Staffs may set their own policies, but the staff editorial need not reflect the views of all editorial board members.

Editorials can still play an important role in today’s media.

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

Resources:

Quick Hit: Picking a topic for staff editorials, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Quick Hit: Importance of staff editorials, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Mirror, mirror on the wall,” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Where have the leaders gone?” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Editorials under attack, Student Press Law Center

They need the freedom to make mistakes, too,” Lindsay Coppens, JEA Press Rights Committee

Explained: why newspapers endorse presidential candidates, Dylan Baddour, Houston Chronicle

Reading newspapers: Editorial and opinion pieces, Learn NC

Video: How to write an editorial, New York Times

Writing an Editorial, Alan Weintraut

 

Read More