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Three ways to increase staff accountability

Posted by on Mar 14, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment


by Megan Fromm, CJE

This time of year, many advisers face a triple threat: looming final yearbook proofs, senior-itis from even the best staffers, and enough sunshine to drive the most dedicated students stir crazy.

While keeping students accountable for their work is an ongoing struggle, the chaos and pace of the spring semester can create new frustrations.

If your students are struggling to complete their work on time (if at all), and what they do produce lacks quality or focus, try one (or all) of these suggestions to shake things up:

1. Give credit where credit is due.

Create a byline on each page or section for the page designer and copy editors who handled the content on those pages. Often, this work goes unattributed except in the staff box, but giving credit for this background work can go a long way in holding students’ feet to the fire.

For students who thrive on acknowledgement and praise, seeing their name on a page might give them the same buzz photographers or reporters enjoy when their work is published. For students who are putting in lackluster effort, sometimes a simple but loving threat that their less-than-quality work will be attributed is enough to convince them to step up their game.

2. Have a Freaky Friday moment.

When tensions are high, and your staffers are at each other’s throats, sometimes walking a mile in each other’s shoes is a fitting remedy. Allow your most overworked and underworked staffers to switch places for the day (or week!). Seeing what other staffers do to keep the publication running is an eye opener for less engaged students and might help them find ways to contribute more effectively.

Similarly, it is healthy for even the top-dog editors to remember what it’s like in the trenches for a newbie reporter or photographer. The most important part of swapping roles is to be sure each staff member keeps track of lessons learned and brainstorms specific ways to apply their new perspective.

3. Create a “Problems & Solutions” board. 

Use a cork board with pins for staffers to post problems or roadblocks they are experiencing throughout an issue. Perhaps they can’t find get in touch with a source or don’t have a good photo for a story. As students experience “down time” or claim they have “nothing to do,” they must peruse the problems list and provide at least three solutions, tips, creative ideas, or offers of help to those who are struggling.

Any student’s solution must require active participation on the part of the “solver.” In other words, if a student recommends watching a YouTube tutorial on how to cut out a background in Photoshop, they should post the link (for the whole class to see) but also watch the tutorial themselves and offer to help cut out the photo, too. This is a great reminder to your staffers that they are all in this together.

Hopefully these three tips provide fuel for your creative fire this spring season. Do you have a tried and true method? Feel free to share other ideas for staff motivation and accountability in the comments.

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What does your social media strategy say about your publication?

Posted by on Feb 3, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


By Megan Fromm, CJE

sprclogoToday’s student journalists are increasingly taking to social media to promote their work and network with other publications.

However, many scholastic publications do not have a social media strategy that is both ethical and effective.

We’ve covered the basics of an ethical social media policy, and I would encourage students to take this policy one step further by asking: what does your social media strategy say about your publication?

In other words, students should consider whether their social media strategy—across all platforms—reflects the kind of publication they aim to be. Of course, social media should be used both legally and ethically, but the totality of a publication’s social media presence should also represent the best of that publication.

Try this: Consider what might happen if a reader “met” your publication only through social media. Would they think your media is all sports, all the time? Would they believe your media was highly visual and interactive? Would they find easy ways to connect with or reach out to your staff and become part of the process?

Take, for example, what the Instagram and Facebook feeds of our presidential candidates currently convey about their campaigns. Taken together, these social media channels actual portray different or diverse sides of candidates that we might not otherwise experience via traditional, more journalistic platforms.

When used effectively, social media can help your audience see a side of your student media that often remains hidden. So, consider the various ways (beyond simply pushing content) that you can use these platforms: to connect with readers on a more personal level, to help your audience see the personalities and dynamics behind the scenes, or even to establish a level of authenticity in the process of journalism by bringing readers and viewers along for the ride.

Before posting, consider these questions:

  1. What part of the process can we share to help our audience become more invested?
  2. How can we show the personality of our staff and publication without being self-aggrandizing?
  3. Which social media platforms are best for communicating different messages?
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News literacy resource: Using NewsWhip in the classroom

Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Teaching news and media literacy requires a seemingly endless set of contemporary resources. As media changes, examples become outdated, and students move on to the next technology.

A primary goal of news literacy education is to help students see how media operates and its effects on society—in other words, what does the “system” of media look like today?

With this outcome in mind, I’m constantly on the lookout for tools that can shed light on the dynamics of news, social media, technology, and human behavior.

One of my favorite (although admittedly also one of my newest) resources for exploring these topics in the most up-to-date way is via NewsWhip, a website that tracks social media content, how it’s shared, and the human influence of that content.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.08.29 AM

Here’s how NewsWhip describes its work:

Through indicators like tweets, shares and comments, people signal what stories are engaging them every minute. NewsWhip’s technology tracks all of this activity for millions of stories to identify those getting the most discussion online.

While NewsWhip is designed as a sort of real-time consulting tool for media companies, its blog provides fresh content and analysis to help students discover more about media and news content today.

For example, an early September post looked at which Republican Candidate was most prominent on Facebook. Using their own data and analysis, including the tracking of shares and comments, NewsWhip provides facts and figures about how candidate information is circulating on Facebook.

The site’s blog posts are not only appropriate for teaching news literacy concepts, but they also often provide insight into using social media and media marketing tools more successfully. These are all topics student media explore on a regular basis, and they provide the perfect context for encouraging students to apply professional media lessons to student media operations.

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Think carefully before publishing April Fools’ Day content

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments


By Megan Fromm, CJE
JEA Educational Initiatives Director

Let’s get straight to the punch line here: April Fools’ Day editions are a bad idea. Why? Well, the Student Press Law Center’s Frank LoMonte provides solid evidence that many joke publications are never received quite as they are intended.

Instead, student editors and advisers often find themselves defending poorly worded jokes or misinterpreted parodies. When all you have to lose is your credibility as a media outlet, the stakes are too high to take this risk.

Still, many student media staffs love the idea of using satire and parody to break the mold, lighten things up or engage their audience on a different level. So, if your students insist on producing April Fools’ Day content, take some steps to demonstrate best ethical and legal practices along the way. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Is the content produced clearly labeled as satire/humor/parody? If a reasonable person could mistake the content for actual news, you’re asking for trouble.
  2. Stay away from comedy or jokes that use violence as a theme. In today’s school climate of zero tolerance, even an obvious joke that includes violence could be grounds to punish a student. As LoMonte writes, “there’s no such thing as a ‘hilarious’ rape joke.”
  3. Consider the message you’re sending readers by publishing April Fools’ Day content. Is your entire publication dedicated to the day, or just a (well-labeled) page? Have you shirked your journalistic responsibility while trying so hard to develop comedic content? Is this really what scholastic journalism is about?
  4. Does your staff thoroughly understand libel law and the implications of defamation?
  5. Finally, encourage student editors to answer simply and honestly whether an April Fools’ Day edition is the hill they want to fight (and potentially die) on. In other words, with all the other battles facing student journalists, do they want to spend their time and effort defending this particular decision?

April Fools’ Day editions are notoriously bad news. In fact, SPLC attorney Mike Hiestand commented in 2006 that there is “a reason why April 2 is often the busiest day of the year for us at the Student Press Law Center.”

So, proceed with caution. Because if you don’t, chances are the joke’s on you.


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Don’t shoot (just) the messenger
in Williams’ fall from grace

Posted by on Feb 16, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


By Megan Fromm, CJE

When Brian Williams apologized on air for misremembering his involvement in a direct-fire incident during the Iraq war, critics and media pundits alike were quick to toss him off his pedestal. We may never know whether Williams intentionally misled his audience or truly suffered from a lapse in memory (and judgment), but we would be remiss to blame only Williams for the gross journalistic error.

What happened behind the scenes? Where were the producers? The writers? The fact checkers? Where was the team of journalistic watchdogs looking out not only for the viewers but also for the reputation of one of their own? Williams’ fall from grace was as much their misstep as his own, and we must reconcile that or face repeating our mistakes in the future.

And while we’re making a list of those responsible for this mess, let’s be sure to leave a few blank spaces for us, the average news consumer. The media have been so quick to crucify Williams, but so far as I can tell,  they are missing another crucial point: we, the audience, led him to this moment. We pushed him to the edge of his journalistic sensibilities, and we dared him to look over the abyss. As the Washington Post reports, Williams “wanted to both report and entertain, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Today’s news audience demands this duplicity, and in fact, it is the only kind of “journalism” we reward with our attention, our money, and our clicks. We really just want our headline news from Jon Stewart, but we settle for Williams because in some ways it makes us feel better about our news consumption. So, we don’t mind when a journalist gets too personal, or when he or she becomes too much a part of the story. We keep moving the line in the sand about how close is too close. And in those moments, the audience becomes complicit in the choices news media make to vie for our attention.

Striving to meet the expectations of an increasingly fractured and disinterested news audience—while simultaneously aiming for unrealistic profit margins—has encouraged the largest news organizations to dangle precipitously close to the edge of their journalistic morality.  It almost comes as no surprise, then, that some lose their footing.

So while it’s easy to criticize Williams for his mistakes (and yes, we should), let’s not forget the part we, as news consumers, have played in this debacle. Sometimes, news is boring. Sometimes, after countless RPGs have been fired on American troops, one more becomes “just another news day.” But that reality exists because too many citizens have abdicated their responsibility to know what’s happening in the world around them regardless of whether it’s inherently sexy, interesting, or tabloid-worthy.

In the case of Brian Williams, it turns out no one really shot the messenger, so perhaps we shouldn’t, either. At least not without looking in the mirror first.

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