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Thoughts on the future of scholastic journalism

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What skills will citizens need in a future that requires deciphering information and communicating effectively? How can schools and their attitude towards the use of new and social media make a difference?

As the journalism concepts we teach expand to include new and social media, will our “fourth estate” guidelines maintain a foothold in the new communications “fifth estate”?

Can we trust new media to keep democracy vibrant and vital?

“What Values,” a live and online conference sponsored recently at Kent State University by several groups including The Poynter Institute and Online News Association, raised these and other questions about commercial media.

In one session, Poynter ethics group leader Kelly McBride highlighted recent findings of their Sense-Makers Project: Media credibility is at an all-time low; people feel that bias exists throughout the media and that media fairness and accuracy are at an all-time low. The study also noted trust in the media improves with important stories.

Questions this study raise apply also to scholastic journalism because new and social media are starting to appear in classrooms. Meanwhile, school officials are attempting more than ever to control student expression in new and social media they use outside the schoolhouse gate.

Questions for those of us in scholastic media, based on issues McBride raised, include:

• Do schools fail if they do not help teach students how to evaluate what they hear and see – before they repeat it using newly found social media? Can new and social media help educate students and increase their understanding of media and the communications process?

• How can we help schools embrace the strengths and weaknesses of new media to educate students? Can we avoid shutting down these venues as administrators often do with filters and Internet use?

• Can it be said student journalism/media involve life skills? How can we, as educators, help students effectively disseminate reliable information and question that which is not? Should life skills include “media literacy or crap detecting” as well as information verification?

• Can teaching students to make thoughtful use of social media help define the role journalism plays in a democracy? Will better educated students mean more questioning and aware citizens?

• Should we continue to place value in”objective-based” reporting or re-build the historical model of point-of-view media so readers choose what they want to hear? What does this do to our concept of democracy? Will relying on information people want to hear rebuild trust in media or begin the fracturing of democracy?  Will it re-energize civility? Or…will no one notice?

• What does a lack of trust in the media mean for the role of journalism at the scholastic level? If there is a lack of trust in scholastic media, why does it exist and how can it be fixed?

• How can schools best provide new skill sets for students to better participate in a democracy?

We need to quickly develop answers and approaches to these and other questions to best help our students in a changing media world.

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