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5 activities to consider before next fall


By John Bowen, MJE

Looking for end-of-year activities to rebuild or revisit how your student media operate, the range and effectiveness of content, no matter the platform?

Consider the following, either now at the end of the year or during summer staff retreats, to help students strengthen your program’s foundation.

The four parts of the foundation approach are a mission statement, an editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual procedures to carry them out.

Approaches to the four mentioned above and a fifth on content, recommended by the SPRC, include:

  • Revisit your mission statement
    Think of your student media this way: What do you stand for? What do students want to be known for? What principles drive your students?

Hopefully, this would be more inclusive and specific than inform and entertain. Mission statements should be the principles on which all other policies, guidelines and procedures are based.
–For a model mission statement and suggested concepts, see Careful preparation creates strong mission statements, Points to avoid in mission statements and From mission to manual: Fitting the pieces into a strong Foundation.

  • Refine your editorial policy
    Designing a strong editorial policy is one of the most important steps your students can take. Why? Simple – a sound editorial policy is like a constitution in that it establishes rules and corresponding responsibilities. These rules include having a designated public forum, avoiding prior review with students making all decisions of content and providing the framework for freedom of expression and related 2lst century skills.

The SPRC’s policy development tools are not designed to give students and advisers cut-out models but to provide choices of language that fit each school’s traditions and situations.

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?
Getting your editorial policy the right way
Student media policy might be the most important decision you make
The foundations of journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals

  • Recreate your ethical guidelines for student staff – and adviser
    While policies provide rules, ethical statements provide guidelines. Since ethical development is primarily a right versus right decision, there are no yes and no directives.

Administrators have punished student journalists for not making an ethical decision the “correct” way. Not mixing policy and ethics statements can go a long way to avoid confusing ethics with policy.

As with policies, the SPRC resources do not provide specific answers or models, but rather pathways and choices. It is not a matter of dictating what reporters will do but what they should do and investigate.

How to use this guide for ethical use of staff manuals
Policy and ethics sitemap
Model for ethical guidelines, process
The role of the adviser is multifold, but ethically, practically for a doer
Yearbook ethical guidelines, Visual guidelines join online, yearbook ethics

We have the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics here.

  • Reframe your approach to considering another view of newsworthy coverage: “what” is happening, “so what” it means and “now what” comes next
    Use of this section would give students a chance to update or develop a process with which to apply mission, policy and ethical guides. It also would divide news into three stages:
    –What is happening, the traditional newsthinking of the 5 Ws and inverted pyramid. Breaking news or quick, straight information for those in a hurry.
    –The “so what” of news would refer to the context or significance of the news and how it affects information gathering.
    –The “now what” that goes beyond the surface of news reflected in most scholastic media. This means preparing sources to think and investigate possible futures, solutions and how to get there.

Balance and objectivity are key to reporting
Covering controversy
Responsibility in scholastic media starts with ethics, accuracy, complete story
Make it matter: Scholastic journalism must do more than give facts

  • Rethink the range of stories your students chose.
    Are there story ideas only students can do best or ideas students have wanted to report but did/could not? Story ideas that might involve working with other schools? Stories tied to national issues or concerns? Stories focused on issues but also on the of solutions and how others have treated similar problem? Stories using new-to you-media? Stories that give a voice to the voiceless?
    –Issues like gun control and student safety. As a student from Santa Fe, the latest school shooting location, said, “I was thinking it was going to happen eventually:” What,toll, if any, are shootings taking on student attitudes and outlook on society.
    –Facing on issue locally and working to report Solutions others have used to try to correct it. These are not opinion pieces but wide-ranging reporting, research and use of data. Have bad water in your school? How have others tried, succeeded or failed to solve it? Prior reviewed? Why? How have others lifted that practice or failed?
    –Urge students to report using a medium they are not familiar with. Rethink existing approaches: What is the best medium to report school board meetings? Audio? Visual and interactive infographic? Combinations of platforms? Will it cause students to rethink their reporting approaches?



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