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Advocacy and journalism:
coexistence or natural conflict?

Posted by on Apr 19, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by John Bowen, MJE
Initially came the mass shooting of 17 students and school staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Students and scholastic media reported the issues surrounding the shootings and the followed student protests, trying to make sense of it all.

Then came discussion among journalism educators about student advocacy and journalism. Should the two travel together? Can they coexist in the same newsroom?

Now is the time to assess those questions, and more.

In a chapter titled “What we need from the ‘Next Journalism'” in their book, Blur, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel  look how questions like these might identify purpose, roles and focus of media in the future.

“Strip away platform. Strip away technique. Strip away culture,” they write. “What function does a newsroom serve in its community? What is its essential purpose, apart from generating revenue?”

Student journalists raised the essence of that question when they reported social issues and events surrounding the shootings at their school. Thousands of other teens, some student journalists, joined in, bringing praise as well as anger, ultimately participation innational marches and protests.

Journalism educators  prepared their students not only to report the events and the issues, fulfilling their social role  responsibility. They also embraced the leadership aspects of journalism by guiding students as they made coverage and action decisions.

Mix the leadership and growth of student voice with the concept of journalism as advocacy and we create debate on the essential purpose and role of scholastic journalism.

After all, muckrakers like Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens and Ida M. Tarbell rerouted the scope of journalism.

Perhaps this present confluence of two major points – change in journalism and a regrowth of advocacy – can fuel the expansion of New Voices and propel scholastic journalism into examining issues and potential solutions.

“Telling stories is not the answer. Neither is delivering the news, or even monitoring government. All those have been a part of it historically,” Kovach and Rosenstiel state in Blur. “But we think the essential function is something broader and more conceptual, and the future of journalism depends in part on embracing the broader notion.”

The authors specifically mention verification, synthesis and making sense of information presented as parts of that larger notion of essential journalism.

It is time to expand the discussion to include the broader notion of scholastic journalism’s future roles and whether advocacy is among them..

In the next month or so we will develop and discuss what these potential changes might mean to scholastic journalism, provide background and perspective and share activities and lessons, grow discussion and spread possibilities.

 

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Teaching grit for citizenship —
why we must empower, not shield students

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Kristin Taylor. The Archer School, Los Angeles, CA
Teachers, advisers and administrators want to help our students. We want to give them the tools to succeed, but we also sometimes want to protect them — to shield them from harsh truths and difficult situations.

If we want students to value citizenship, however, we must let them be citizens in school. Citizenship isn’t easy, and it isn’t “safe.” Citizenship means taking an active role, speaking truth to power, and taking risks. If we want them to learn to be citizens, we must resist that urge to shield and protect and instead empower them to make their own decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes.

By now you’ve likely heard a lot about the remarkable team of high school journalists who uncovered fraud in their incoming new principal Amy Robertson’s resume, which eventually led to her resignation. These students clearly understand citizenship and their role as watchdogs after making the hard choice to write a story directly targeting an administrator.

Equally inspiring is the Wichita Eagle’s article about Emily Smith, the adviser who gave her students the strength to take this risk. The article outlines how a student uncovered some discrepancies and asked Smith for help looking into them. A little research and a meeting with the superintendent led to disturbing information and raised troubling questions about the validity of Robertson’s educational credentials and experience.

Smith could have protected her students. She could have withheld information or told them —accurately — that pursuing this story was going to rock the boat in a serious way and could result in an adversarial relationship with their new principal. She also could have sat down with them and told them what to do — pursue it, or let it be. Instead, Smith gave them the information and left the room, leaving them to discuss and decide if they wanted to report this story. She empowered them to make a hard choice.

She told this team of six student journalists that she would support them no matter what they decided, but she also made sure they considered their societal responsibilities.

Smith could have protected her students. She could have withheld information or told them —accurately — that pursuing this story was going to rock the boat in a serious way and could result in an adversarial relationship with their new principal. She also could have sat down with them and told them what to do — pursue it, or let it be. Instead, Smith gave them the information and left the room, leaving them to discuss and decide if they wanted to report this story. She empowered them to make a hard choice.

“If you guys decide this is not your place or it’s over our head, I would completely respect that,” Smith said in a video interview about the conversation she had with them. “However, you need to think about your responsibility to the community and the situation you’re in,” she said. “It’s not always easy to do the right thing, and I think what you’re doing is right.”

Despite skepticism from superintendent Destry Brown and a Skype interview with Robertson (supervised by Brown) where students had to interrupt Robertson to ask their questions, they pursued the story. Despite being scolded by Brown for being too hard on Robertson in that interview and being told he hoped they would write “a nice piece welcoming Robertson to the community” to make up for it, they pushed on.

Despite losing Smith’s advice after Spring Break when she recused herself on the advice of the director of Kansas Scholastic Press Association due to a potential conflict of interest — she’d been on an early hiring committee panel — they kept going. Smith brought in local reporters to act as adult advice but stepped back from the process and didn’t see the final story until it was printed. Despite how hard these professional journalists pushed the students to corroborate and fact-check and sometimes re-interview, they wrote the story and met the deadline.

This is a story about grit and trust. It’s a story about teaching students to push forward despite obstacles. It’s a story about teaching teenagers that they are strong enough and smart enough and trustworthy enough to be citizens. It’s also a story about that terrifying moment when we advisers decide to step back and trust that we have given our students the tools and ethical foundation to be journalists.

As Smith notes in the video, had her students been wrong, this would have been a very different story. They would not have been invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner, nor would they be flooded with congratulatory messages from national publications or an invitation from Duke to apply to its journalism program. Smith would have been in a very awkward position with the new principal, who would likely have placed some of the blame for the students’ decisions on Smith herself — however unfairly, since students have all final say on content as per Kansas’ free speech laws.

But making mistakes is also part of being a citizen, and accountability is another crucial lesson about adult life. Part of being a good adviser is knowing you, too, are taking a risk, but the risk is worth it.

But making mistakes is also part of being a citizen, and accountability is another crucial lesson about adult life. Part of being a good adviser is knowing you, too, are taking a risk, but the risk is worth it.

The Eagle’s article ends with Connor Balthazor, one of the team of six students who reported the story, reflecting on the difference between Superintendent Brown’s and adviser Smith’s approaches to the situation:

“Although they will be recognized for their perseverance, Balthazor says he will always remember how, even as Brown tried to shield them from the dangers of the adult world, Smith pushed them to take responsibility for it.

“’She’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had,’” Balthazor said. “’Simply from a human being perspective. She has incredible moral integrity.’”

“’You are fighting the good fight; you’re doing the right thing by doing this,’” she told them 20 times a day, he said. “’This is some of the most important work you’ll ever do.’”

“’And she was right.’”

Students need guidance, advice and foundational skills. They need an ethical framework and adult feedback from a qualified adviser to provide perspective along the way. Ultimately, though, we adults must have the courage to let our students be citizens. If they can be this brave, so can we.

 

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A presidential tweet that can hit home

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller, MJE
It was, for all practical purposes, just another tweet from the commander in chief.  “…Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

At face value you can say ‘well, it’s just Trump being Trump.”

But what if you got the same message from your principal?

You’d be outraged.  You’d post on the Listserv. You’d post on social media. You’d (hopefully) contact the Scholastic Press Rights Committee.

And you would be right.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

Before you start citing the First Amendment, take a moment to break down Trump’s post.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

First, take a look at Trump’s first idea — cancel all future “press briefings” – It’s reprehensible for any public official, let alone the POTUS, to practice a lack of public access and transparency, which is what the Trump administration wants to do.  Journalism educators can use this as the proverbial teaching moment – but not on a global level – on a local level.

If a superintendent, principal or any other school official were to tell student media  they were not going to disseminate any information, odds are likely  advisers and their student journalists would, and justifiably so, be upset. The challenge for student journalists is to access the information.  Using public access tools like sunshine laws and Freedom of Information laws is a great place to start. Administrators at public schools have a legal, if not a fiduciary responsibility to provide all public information to the media – including student media. Students and advisers need to be up to date on their state’s open meetings and FOI laws. They should also have resources of citizen watchdog groups that can assist them.

Taking a further look at the Twitter-in-Chief’s tweet, his solution is to “…hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy…”

Seriously? On a global stage it makes no sense.  It’s condescending.  On a local stage it not only lacks sense and is condescending – it’s offensive to not only the student journalists, but also student media advisers.  It’s offensive to student journalists because it says school officials lack trust in them as not just student journalists, but journalists.

The message it sends to advisers is that they are not working with their students on the fundamentals of journalism, including fact checking and use of multiple sources.  Advisers and students should have a litany of resources including fact-checking and news literacy sites. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at RCFP.org, Politi.com, FactCheck.org and the News Literacy Project at thenewsliteracyproject.org, and the American Press Institute (americanpressinstitute.org) are great places to start.

Advisers and student journalists should also be current on the status of New Voices Legislation – especially if their state has a Speech/Press Rights bill on the books. Full information is available at newvoices.com or on the New Voices Facebook page.

Knowing the law can re-enforce your right, let alone the public’s right, to know.  In Illinois, for example, recently passed legislation allows administrators to bar content only if “… (1) is libelous, slanderous, or obscene; (2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (3) violates federal or State law; or (4) incites students to commit an unlawful act, to violate policies of the school district, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

This raises the bar for student journalists to do not only their best work, but practice unrestricted and responsible journalism.

This is something that is to be expected.

By administrators.

By advisers.

By student journalists.

And you’d think by the President of the United States.

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Enemy of the American people?

Posted by on Feb 20, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 3 comments

Scholastic Journalism Week gives students a chance to prove the opposite

by Stan Zoller, MJE
This week is Scholastic Journalism Week – a time for scholastic journalists and their advisers and teachers to tout the excitement and passion that is, in many ways, uniquely scholastic journalism.

There will be posters, T-shirts, activities and, of course, voluminous numbers of social media posts.

This year, however, there’s something else that needs to be added to the mix.

A sense of urgency.

Never before in American history, or the history of American journalism, has the media and the First Amendment come under such ridicule and hatred by a sitting president. Instead of being dubbed “watchdogs” who protect the public’s right to know, mainstream journalists have been labeled “the enemy of the American People.”

By a sitting president.

Evita Peron would be proud.  So would Hitler.  So would Stalin.

In January 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington that “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right, and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Jefferson made this comment two years before the First Amendment was submitted for ratification and more than four years before it was ratified, that coming in December of 1791.

While Jefferson took exception to the media, as many people do, he at least seemed to realize the importance of a free press and how it, like individual Americans, have a right to their opinion.

Jefferson got it; Even though, historians claim, he had one thing in common with Donald Trump – a fundamental distrust of the Fourth Estate, reportedly saying in June of 1807 that “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”  In the end, however, Jefferson knew the importance of a viable media.

Jefferson got it; Even though, historians claim, he had one thing in common with Donald Trump – a fundamental distrust of the Fourth Estate, reportedly saying in June of 1807 that “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”

In the end, however, Jefferson knew the importance of a viable media.

The theme of Scholastic Journalism Week, “The Communities We Cover,” reflects the need for a free and vibrant press. Student journalists, like any other journalists, need to be free to report on anything within their community – whether it is their school, school district or hometown –without fear of censorship, restraint or undue lambasting of their efforts by officials.

Journalists are not perfect.  Neither are school administrators, educators or politicians. The reality is, however, that the work done by journalists is an open book for anyone to see, especially in the age of social media.  Mainstream journalists are trained in press ethics and laws and have the tools to fact check in order to verify their work.  Again, it’s not always perfect.

The First Amendment clearly states that there shall be no laws “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”, yet messages coming out of Washington, D.C. seem to be taking a counter-step to the that sentiment.

While there are cries to take the plight to social media with various hashtags, the fight against the assault on the nation’s media needs to go further.  Student journalists need to take charge of informing their news consumers that journalists, including those in student media, are not “the enemy of the American People.”

During Scholastic Journalism Week scholastic media outlets should encourage their audiences to become civically engaged and contact lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to let them know that an assault on the First Amendment is not only an attack on professional journalists, but the nation’s students as well.

This year it’s important to not just celebrate Scholastic Journalism Week.  Student journalists need to take pride in what they do and practice the craft that they and their advisers are so passionate about.

It’s that important.  In fact, it’s urgent.

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Teachable moments in journalism

Posted by on Jan 29, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

As we discuss fake  and alternate news and work them into our classroom and newsroom activities, we should also look at journalists’ social responsibilities to their communities.

 

Take, for example, this lead sequence from a New York Times article:

Warm welcome for Syrians in a country about to ban them

CHICAGO — On Friday afternoon, a group of suburban synagogue members clustered at O’Hare International Airport, waiting to greet one of the last Syrian refugee families to be accepted in the United States, to give them the warmest possible welcome to a country that no longer wanted their kind.

In Washington, the presidential limousine was already speeding toward the Pentagon, where President Trump would sign a paper officially slamming the door shut on Syrian refugees. But here the volunteers had yellow roses, more warm coats than the newcomers would need and, a few miles away, an apartment ready with a doormat that said “welcome” in 17 languages.

“Welcome to chicag Hope you make your selfs at home” said a sign made by one of the youngest members of the group….

What are the ways we can critique the lead and the accompanying story (some might be great, some not so great)?

  • A when lead
  • Localization
  • Lack of identified sources for the first six graphs
  • Good observation of what the reporter saw
  • And more in journalistic style.

Because we always look for additional exercises using commercial reporting, we might say, “How do you avoid the when lead and ask students to rewrite the lead (I’ll leave that to you).

We might also ask students to look at the headline: “Warm welcome for Syrians in a country about to ban them”.

What points might we expect students to note:

  • The head does not repeat the lead
  • Is the head neutral?
  • What has been added in the head that the lead does not have?
  • And more.
  • How might they rewrite the head and why?

We might also ask students to look at the photo and the cutline: “Volunteers from the Am Shalom synagogue in Glencoe, Ill., waited on Friday at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to greet one of the last Syrian families to be accepted in the United States.”

What points might we expect students to note:

  • Does the headline contain all the needed information?
  • Does it reflect the information and intent of the photo? What might they change or add?
  • And more.

As summary questions, we might ask:

  • Does the package of head, lead, story photo and cutline present a complete story?
  • What, if anything is missing? What might be added?
  • And more.

In taking all these steps would we have captured the essence, the social responsibility of the reporting?

To me, all this information lacked something: an approach to capture the reader into the context and essence of the story that came with my New York Times news alert on my phone to tease me to link to the story:

One of the last Syrian families to enter the US found flowers, volunteers and a nation about to bar people like them.

We can still discuss various elements of this teaser:

  • Is it objective?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Does it capture the reader?
  • Does it reflect the social responsibility of the media?
  • Does it make use of multiple platform approaches to tell a cohensive story?

And so much more.

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