Third in a 10 part series of student journalists Making a Difference
In Carolyn Fritts journalistic writing course, at Glenbard West High School, in Glen Ellyn, Ill., she requires students to a research local topic and produce a comprehensive film documentary as their final exam.
Students set out to discover what happens to Chicago when the ecosystem collapses and what can happen when individuals take measures to protect and promote biodiversity. “The Loss of Biodiversity in the Chicagoland Area” captures the ravages of urban sprawl.
Biodiversity in urban settings decreases with urban sprawl. Urban amphibians are the first victims. Students looked at how scientists are trying to return flora and fauna back to its most natural state.
This 15-minute documentary shows the devastation to the wild life in the 370,000-acre area in the Chicagoland area and how ecologists work to reverse the devastation. Featuring interviews with naturalists and ecologists, these student journalists tell the story of ways professionals even use fire to restore habitats to clear out the invasive species to help the habitat heal itself.
According to Fritts, the students had to “interview two experts concerning their topic, conduct extensive background research, film footage to supplement the documentary’s narrative, and provide voice overs to incorporate research.”
Making a difference is not just about reporting the intensely controversial topics that surround schools, but searching out stories that impact the environment around the schools. The students at Glenbard High School have done this.
by Mary Kay Downes
The very nature of a yearbook being the permanent record of the year presents numerous issues which primarily have to do with the permanency of the book. Yearbooks live forever! Often yearbooks are viewed as a public relations tool of the school, and the administration and/or community are reluctant to have any coverage at all which they would deem not supporting a pristine image of the institution.
This leads to self-censorship at best, and prior review or restraint at worst, as well as a myriad of other problems
Yearbook is a paid product compared to regular student media. We have an audience to satisfy, and because of this, we must considering their wants/needs differently than we do with a news website or news magazine because we want them to buy the book to pay the bill and be self-sustaining.
Although we absolutely don’t want to compromise journalism standards just to get students to buy the book, yearbook students are still obligated to cover everything, with accuracy and integrity, even as they’re trying to create a product people want to purchase.
What’s best for students? We return to that essential question constantly as decision-makers in every realm of education. In the “yearbook yikes” dilemma featured in this month’s Ethical Educator column in School Administrator magazine, the solutions address what may be best for one student but fail to mention what’s best for many others.
Where are the student editors in these discussions?
The opportunity to plan and produce student media is a valuable learning experience from start to finish. The communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking students on a yearbook staff experience continues well beyond the final page submission. Deciding how to handle the altered photo and ethical lapse is an essential piece of their learning.
Because students should be responsible for all content decisions, they also should be accountable to their audience and to each other. If the superintendent takes action to remedy the yearbook error, students are deprived of a major lesson in critical thinking and decision-making skills tied to journalistic standards and civic responsibility.
Ideally, student journalists address those standards and responsibilities long before producing even a single yearbook page by creating publication policies. With guidance and support from a trained journalism teacher, students define and put in writing what they stand for and why. The policy then serves as a guide — a commitment to themselves and their audience — for all future decisions. It includes what they will cover and why as well as how to handle errors, omissions, corrections and more.
If the students involved in the “yearbook yikes” dilemma have no such policy, this is an important lesson for them. Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out and so they learn and grow from the process. As editors identify who was responsible for the altered photo and how to handle it (both internally with consequences and improved staff procedures as well as publicly and with the affected student), they can reevaluate their process and make it right.
Plenty of great resources exist to aid in this process, such as the Model Code of Ethics from the National Scholastic Press Association, which charges student journalists to be accountable with a commitment to admit mistakes and publicize corrections. The Society of Professional Journalists also offers an extensive collection of policies journalism teachers can use with their students in these important discussions. The bottom line is that this dilemma affects many more students than just the one pictured in the yearbook, and administrators should consider the long-term effects as well as the shorter-term needs of addressing a parent complaint.
As a student media adviser, I know firsthand the inaccuracy of Sarah MacKenzie’s claim that “… most yearbooks are already gathering dust on shelves only to be retrieved for class reunions, if at all.” Even months after distribution day, students cart yearbooks to school events, pull them from their backpacks daily, poring over pages together to read stories and carry them on vacations to review the personal memories, photos and details of times passed.
That’s all the more reason student editors should strive to meet journalistic standards and operate with integrity, and absolutely why student editors should be accountable for their decisions, including determining the best solution to this and any other dilemma. With a stronger emphasis on their “why” as a staff, training and support from a qualified adviser and empowerment to solve problems based on their own critical thinking, students learn important lessons and make better decisions.
And that, of course, is what’s best for all students.
Sarah Nichols, MJE, M.Ed
teacher/adviser, Whitney High Student Media
2010 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
vice president, Journalism Education Association
by Stan Zoller
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees. Or perhaps we spend a lot of time preaching to the choir. Take your pick.
As journalism educators, we know about the problems we face handling student media. So when someone from “the outside” addresses them, it’s a breath of fresh air.
So rather than write about a “really great speech I heard…”, I’m going to let you read it for yourself.
But first, a bit of background. The presentation was by Dann Gire, film critic for the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Gire was the featured speaker at the Illinois Journalism Education Association’s annual award luncheon June 7.
As the national organizations of journalism educators committed to the training of future journalists and the preparation of citizens for life in our democracy, we write to express our vigorous opposition to the proposed policy changes under consideration by the Neshaminy Board of School Directors that relate to school-sponsored student publications
We find the proposed policy changes, which give school officials virtually unlimited authority to censor student journalism even of the highest quality, educationally unsound, constitutionally insufficient and morally indefensible. They are inconsistent with the student media policies recommended by national education experts.