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Contests should stress how to be journalists as much as they do winning

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by Stan Zoller, MJE
The late sports writer Jerome Holtzman penned a book, “No Cheering in the Press,” which is a collection of fascinating tales by some legendary sports scribes.

In the book, the scribes describe the ascent to the top of the craft to cover some of the nation’s most famous, if not infamous, sports legends.

To no surprise, the ride to the top was accentuated by talent, luck and, of course, hard work.

Despite the advent of social media, digital media and the information-in-your-hand age, one thing remains a constant – journalists still need that combination of talent, luck and hard work.

Journalism educators need to embrace that and not only teach students about journalism, but how to be journalists.

While students may understand various code of ethics, especially the benchmark, the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, they need to put ethics into practice with every story they pursue and write.

While students may understand various code of ethics, especially the benchmark, the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, they need to put ethics into practice with every story they pursue and write.

As more and more states pass (hopefully) New Voices legislation, the bar will continue to climb for the work done by not only student journalists, but also by their instructors and/or advisers.

It’s imperative work done by student journalists, and this is not breaking news, be of the highest journalism ethics and standards and not done solely to win awards. It is a disturbing state of affairs when various state scholastic press associations focus on and promote awards and contests, not issues facing student journalists, let alone journalism as a whole.

It’s unfortunate there are administrators who approve attendance at journalism conferences only if they include a competition. 

While write-offs are a way to challenge and recognize the talents of student journalists, they miss the mark when they are used only as a precursor to larger contests.

It’s unfortunate there are administrators who approve attendance at journalism conferences only if they include a competition.      

 JEA’s national Write Offs, by virtue of quality presenters and topics, offer an intense challenge for student journalists. A student winning a JEA write-off award did so against student journalists from across the country.

However, some regional and local conferences offer write-off competitions sometimes quickly done and offer little more than an opportunity for a student journalist to win a quick recognition. 

The time and effort spent in developing, administering and judging write-off competitions could be better spent developing and administering extended breakout sessions on student press rights, journalism ethics and how to usefreedom of information tools.

JEA’s spring conference has adopted a model for some sessions at its spring conferences which is an excellent stepping stone.

The schedule is flexible enough to accommodate both journalism education and recognition through write-offs. In the journalism-under-the-gun age, journalists, whether student journos or pros, are going to gain more by flaunting excellence inJournalism than they will by just showing a certificate. 

Journalism can cheer their students all they want, but at the end of the day, when it comes to getting, developing and reporting a story, it still takes talent, luck and hard work. 

In the end, it comes down to the age-old question, which is more important – quantity or quality. 

It’s a no-brainer. The latter.

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