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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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Illinois civics law reinforces
value of journalism education

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE
The successful passage and subsequent signing by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner of legislation that mandates a one-semester civic education course for high school students provides more than ‘just another’ social science course.

It re-enforces the importance of journalism education.

Throughout the process, The Illinois Task Force on Civic Education cited the need for citizens to be civic literate. One way to achieve that? News literacy.

The task force noted that:

“Responsible citizens include individuals who are informed and thoughtful. They have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have and understand the importance of news literacy; have an understanding and awareness of issues impacting their communities; have a capacity to think critically; and have a willingness to enter into dialogue with others about different points of view and to respect diverse perspectives.”

Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.

The impact on journalism educators is simple: informed and engaged news consumers need to receive news reports that are independent, free of bias and provide information that is not only accurate, but also verifiable and transparent. The task force noted that a civics education course needs to offer students more than content; its needs to include skills, especially those related to news literacy.

Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.

Does this validate the need for a journalism course? Not solely, but it is a message that administrators need to hear. Ethically produced journalism that embellishes the basic fundamentals of news literacy has a new goal – at least in Illinois – to provide news consumers, as Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach note in “The Elements of Journalism” information that people need to live their lives and to also understand the world. They also write that it needs to be “meaningful, relevant and engaging.”

To achieve this, the need for student reporting to be ethical and adhere to media laws is at a new high. That’s because students, like other news consumers, are no longer just looking to be entertained, but informed so they can become not only active at school, but also in the civic process as well.

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Practical application the best way
to learn civic involvement, not tests

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

And that involvement should include journalism


An April 21 Education Week article  notes that a dozen state legislators want to require graduating students to take — and pass — a test similar to one given those who want to become U. S. citizens.

While the legislation might have some merit, it is not a solution for the best way prepare students to be contributors in a democracy.

That solution requires hands-on application of principles taught, practiced and learned in civics, history, and, we would argue, journalism classes.

“We need young citizens who are committed to helping make their communities better and who can assess policy proposals, not merely youths who know how many voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives there are,” Education Week author Joseph Kahne said in his article. ” Google provides the answer to any question on the naturalization test in seconds.”

We agree.

And, we would add, legislators need to look at successful journalism programs, free of review and restraint, where students make all final decisions of content. These represent real civic engagement and learning.

Such programs are models for civic engagement and citizenship.

Journalism, news literacy and civic literacy programs would do a far better job of preparing students for the rigors of an effective democracy than a multiple choice exam or almost any non-application test.

“Democracy,” Kahne says, “thrives when citizens think critically and deeply about civic and political issues, when they consider the needs and priorities of others, and when they engage in informed action—not when they memorize a few facts.”

Again, we agree. More testing of facts and figure about the government might not hurt, but it won’t really help, either.

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Does your mother love you: Get three sources;
Is the Verification Handbook useful: Check it out

Posted by on Feb 2, 2014 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment

As scholastic media and their advisers move more to online media and use more social media as a reporting tool, verification remains a critical issue.

Enter the Verification Handbook, a product of Poynter’s Craig Silverman and American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Merrill Perlman.

Subtitled “A definitive guide to verifying digital content for emergency coverage” it comes across as a thorough, easy to use and authoritative tool for our students to use as they grow into digital and social media reporting.

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Be proud of each trip you take to publish student media

Posted by on Jan 14, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller
Several years ago I was having a conversation with my neighbor, also a teacher.  Our conversation covered the usual teacher stuff – students, administrators, curriculum, union contracts – and course loads.

It was while we discussing the classes we taught, he pronounced that “well, anyone can teach journalism.”

So much for good neighbors.

I asked him what his point of reference was and he, to no surprise, did not have a good answer, but seemed hint that “all we had to do” was put out the paper, which, I guess is like saying all drivers education teachers have to do is start the car.

Journalism teachers seem to be education’s misunderstood children.  It’s the destination – the newspaper, the yearbook, the broadcast or website by which we are judged.  That’s all we do.

What’s overlooked, as we all know, are the intricacies that go into student media.  Not the intricacies of InDesign or Photoshop – but the intricacies of journalism.  The laws, the ethics, the policies and the court decisions.

You know, “hey kids, go and report so we can produce the next edition, get the next sig done or post it.”  You know, we’re like Nike – we just do it.

Journalism educators are notoriously supportive of each other (well, for the most part) and of our craft.  We’re proud when the final product is published, produced or posted.

What we need to be proud of however, is not the destination – but the trip we took to get there.  My guess is most people – in education and out – do not have an idea of everything that goes into producing student media.  They see the photos, read the words, listen to the broadcast and say “nice job.”

What’s overlooked, as we all know, are the intricacies that go into student media.  Not the intricacies of InDesign or Photoshop – but the intricacies of journalism.  The laws, the ethics, the policies and the court decisions.

What separates journalism classes from the many other classes is what students need to know before they get “the keys to the car.”  Our students need to be exposed on a regular basis to court decisions that impact journalism, not just student journalism.

News consumers who read or watch student media should have the same expectations they do as if they were reading the Chicago Tribune, the Sacramento Bee, the Virginian-Pilot or the New York Times.

Unrealistic?  Maybe high school students don’t have Pulitzer Prize winning writing and reporting skills – but they need to have the same ethics and understanding of press law as any reporter.  Administrators need to understand that the student media is not an outlet for students to have fun in print, online or on air.  If journalism educators don’t keep the bar raised for their student journalists, then the door to prior review and prior restraint may swing open.

And before you know it, administrators may think that anyone can teach journalism.

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