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Lighting the way: leadership for the future

Posted by on Mar 16, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

The New York Times reported on a crisis mapping operation involving what it called everyone-as-informant March 12.  The Times article reported the operation suggested a new paradigm for humanitarian work.

This project, shaped to fit the needs of scholastic journalism, suggests a viable paradigm for scholastic new media to lead, not only through content but also opinion.

Such an approach would blend the mirror and candle theories into one  tool rooted in a journalistic sense of leadership.

And that, said Jan Leach, assistant professor of journalism at Kent State University, former Ethics Fellow at The Poynter Institute and editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, is a perfect role for effective news media.

“The news media lead by providing information that can help audiences with the urgent and the mundane aspects of their lives,” Leach said. “This includes helping audiences make decisions on everything from candidates and issues to decisions on real estate, schools, movies and purchases.”

What Leach talks about would include:
• A strong publication voice calling for action or explaining issues and events. In a case like the Times noted, explaining why action was needed and how to accomplish it.
• Thorough reporting that explained the significance of the issues, events or problems and how to become involved and resources placing the events into perspective.
• Opportunities for involvement and interaction so members of the various affected communities could help each other or answer a call to action.

That fulfills the candle theory.

The mirror theory is also fulfilled through more mundane coverage of events, people and issues that affect people’s lives daily.

Leach sees a strong and active editorial presence as essential in this blended process.

“Newspapers and online operations that have regular, forceful editorial pages are providing steady, if controversial, leadership,” she said. “Those that are inconsistent or wishy-washy in their opinions are less reliable in terms of leadership. People look for the studied opinion, the additional information, the weighing of all sides.”

Let’s say during Scholastic Journalism Week JEA or another journalistic group (including a student one) uses the mapping model to track one day of prior restraint or review  across the nation. Students, facing review or  restraint, could publish to one core location details, topics, reasons given, and who is reviewing. Reported information could then be assembled and reported to give a national snapshot of issues scholastic journalists face. Individual student media could develop coverage to show the depth of the problem and take a strong position with national data to support their position.

The process could be replicated for any common issues or topics schools face. And, it could be reported and editorialized by scholastic media working individually or in collaboration.

In short, scholastic journalism’s obligation to lead is a function of strong content and editorial presence, no matter what media.

Leadership does not need to be seen as a piece of the past but as an integral aspect of journalism’s future, lighting the way.

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Where have the leaders gone?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2010 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Judging newspaper entries this spring, I noticed a distinct lack of unsigned staff editorials. In some cases this seemed to be mirrored by a lack of depth or extended feature reporting.

If there were editorials, a significant number were not calls to action or statements of leadership on events or issues.

In other words, the leadership function seemed to be either distinctly limited or completely lacking.

Leadership can come from reporting or through editorial statements. When either seems to be missing, we have to ask why:

• Is it censorship or fear of censorship that limits substantive or thorough reporting and editorials?
• Is it because columns offer more “name” recognition? Are news and substantive reporting not in vogue?
• Is it the belief editorials are passé and have no real power to sway,  that depth and extended reporting is not popular in a culture of affirmation?
• Is it inexperienced advisers who don’t fully understand the leadership role of student media?
• Is it some other reason?
• Is it worth our concern?

I hope someone can shed some light on what seems to be a lack of editorials and a lack of issues reporting.

In 1947 the Hutchins Commission report called for more investigative reporting (remember studying the media’s performance in the early McCarthy era) and more social responsibility, reporting that went beyond the surface.

Some journalists refer to reporting beyond the surface as the candle theory of journalism — bringing light.  Surface reporting exhibited in the McCarthy era might be termed the mirror theory of journalism — reporting what we see in front of us.

Perhaps we need to find out why editorials and the resulting editorial leadership seem to be missing, why reporting beyond surface events seems to be absent or at least on the decline.

It might be time to reinvigorate the Hutchins movement and apply it to scholastic media. It’s a time of change in media as print seemingly fades and digital media explodes, especially at the scholastic levels. (See Part 2 for a look at the models we might be creating)

After all, even mirrors require some light to be effectively useful.

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