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Where have the leaders gone?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2010 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Judging newspaper entries this spring, I noticed a distinct lack of unsigned staff editorials. In some cases this seemed to be mirrored by a lack of depth or extended feature reporting.

If there were editorials, a significant number were not calls to action or statements of leadership on events or issues.

In other words, the leadership function seemed to be either distinctly limited or completely lacking.

Leadership can come from reporting or through editorial statements. When either seems to be missing, we have to ask why:

• Is it censorship or fear of censorship that limits substantive or thorough reporting and editorials?
• Is it because columns offer more “name” recognition? Are news and substantive reporting not in vogue?
• Is it the belief editorials are passé and have no real power to sway,  that depth and extended reporting is not popular in a culture of affirmation?
• Is it inexperienced advisers who don’t fully understand the leadership role of student media?
• Is it some other reason?
• Is it worth our concern?

I hope someone can shed some light on what seems to be a lack of editorials and a lack of issues reporting.

In 1947 the Hutchins Commission report called for more investigative reporting (remember studying the media’s performance in the early McCarthy era) and more social responsibility, reporting that went beyond the surface.

Some journalists refer to reporting beyond the surface as the candle theory of journalism — bringing light.  Surface reporting exhibited in the McCarthy era might be termed the mirror theory of journalism — reporting what we see in front of us.

Perhaps we need to find out why editorials and the resulting editorial leadership seem to be missing, why reporting beyond surface events seems to be absent or at least on the decline.

It might be time to reinvigorate the Hutchins movement and apply it to scholastic media. It’s a time of change in media as print seemingly fades and digital media explodes, especially at the scholastic levels. (See Part 2 for a look at the models we might be creating)

After all, even mirrors require some light to be effectively useful.

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Bringing light to relevant issues, past and present, defines journalistic leadership

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Lessons, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail
“Blowing in the Wind
“Find the Cost of Freedom
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone

How do these lyrics and titles relate to scholastic journalism?

  • They all came at a time when people questioned the media, its role and its leadership.
  • They all came at a time when citizens and journalists complained of government mis-, dis and censored information.
  • They all came at a time when activism and protest – from multiple viewpoints – clouded not only the truth on timely issues but also many people’s minds.

Sound familiar?

Fifty years ago, The U. S. Supreme Court upheld students wearing of black armbands as protected speech during the Vietnam war. That war also spawned events and issues that continued to bring activists, protestors and media together.

The war brought new levels of violence against expression some called unAmerican. “America, love it or leave it” was a forerunner of today’s “Enemy of the State.”

Such verbiage frustrated citizens who sought the truth about issues: The Pentagon Papers. MyLai 4. Lt. William Calley. May 4, 1970. The impact of drugs.

2018 and 2019 highlight a tumultuous new era with key similarities to the past.

Distrust of government and news media. Who tells the truth? Whom can citizens believe? Who lies?

And the current issues: Availability of guns, health, drugs, the environment, misinformation and lying. Growing amounts of stress in student lives.

Sound familiar?

We began to learn from Mary Beth and John Tinker and others who opened the schoolhouse gates to free expression, social awareness and creation of change. Free speech and press are important.

If we truly believe the social responsibility role of the news media is an essential partner with freedom – at all levels – we will empower student journalists to seek the truth, to dig for the whole story and to always question authority. They then question what authority tells society as the Tinkers and others modeled 50 years ago.

Reporting will add new meaning to journalistic leadership, advocacy and solutions.

Consider, as a New Year’s resolution, expanding your journalistic studies to include current issues as well as their historical perspectives. Content choices include:

And, as we move into 2019, the hammers, not the nails, will bring clearer insight and exert stronger leadership in today’s societal issues.

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Have students learn from history
as student journalists today

Posted by on Oct 22, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Jackie Mink
As a high school student in 1968, I had friends and family members fighting in the Vietnam War. There were many protests across the country by young people against the war, but one in particular influenced student expression for the future and up to today.

That protest was when a group of students in Iowa decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. They were suspended, and legal challenges regarding the suspension  led to the famous Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court decision in 1969.

In 1983, as a young journalism teacher, I took a job at Hazelwood East High School.  I was told by a school official that there was a “small problem in the journalism classes”.  I learned that legal action had been started over an issue with the previous school newspapers printing something the principal found unacceptable and that I had two of the students in class who were involved.

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The importance of staff edits:
critical thinking, leadership QT 38

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 in Blog, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Given all of these responsibilities, it’s easy to see why writing an unsigned staff editorial might seem a lower priority than getting the next edition to print or finishing that great feature on the new student body president.

But these editorials represent a unique and powerful opportunity for the board to be leaders in their school communities, and editors tempted to skip writing them should reconsider their priorities.

As overseers of all publication content, school news editors know more about what’s going on in their communities than just about anyone else in the school. As they read each article and listen with a journalist’s ear to what’s happening around them day-to-day, they can see patterns and problems most people cannot, adults included.

Coming together as a group, they can choose meaningful topics to address and think critically about what they want to say about those topics as a board. Once they reach a majority opinion on the topic, they can write collaboratively on a Google doc or take turns writing the first draft and then edit that draft into a clear, concise final piece.

Because staff editorials are unsigned, they carry more weight than a single writer’s opinion and may have greater impact. Well researched, authoritative editorials are powerful tools for change in a school community, and editorial boards should make them a priority.


Student journalists should act as candles lighting issues within their communities as well as mirrors reflecting current events. One way to enact this leadership is for the student editorial board to write regular unsigned editorials to advocate, solve a problem or commend. Editorial opinions should be clearly labeled and separate from the news section and should not affect objective news coverage.

Social Media Post

Does your student editorial board write regular unsigned editorials? If not, they are missing an opportunity to lead.

Reasoning/suggestions: Student media show leadership in many ways, and one of the most traditional is through concise, focused and authoritative statements of well-argued and supported opinion which represent the institutional voice of the student media. These editorials are a unique opportunity for student leaders to give voice to student perspectives on important topics. Editorial board members who take this process seriously and write consistently can advocate for change, serve as calls to action or commend positive conditions. Because staff editorials are unsigned, they carry more weight than a single writer’s opinion and may have greater impact.


Quick Hit: Picking a topic for staff editorials, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Quick Hit: Staff editorial process, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Mirror, mirror on the wall,” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Where have the leaders gone?” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Editorials under attack, Student Press Law Center

Explained: why newspapers endorse presidential candidates, Dylan Baddour, Houston Chronicle

They need the freedom to make mistakes, too,” Lindsay Coppens, JEA Press Rights Committee

Reading newspapers: Editorial and opinion pieces, Learn NC

Video: How to write an editorial, New York Times

Writing an Editorial, Alan Weintraut


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Journalistic credibility – gone with LeBron

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


I know this is not directly related to scholastic journalism, but in a way it is.

As scholastic media – online and print – strive to find models of what they want to emulate, they of course look to the commercial media (I have reasons for not grouping them all under the guise of professional).

This post by David Zurawik makes excellent observations about some forms of  “journalism,” most recently exemplified by ESPN’s LeBron James infotainment last night.

I am not recommending this because I am from Cleveland but because the author makes relevant points about journalistic credibility.

LeBron is gone; let’s not send journalistic integrity with him, at any level.

Hype is not what scholastic journalism needs; real leadership through digging and reporting is.

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