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Journalism and activism: Is there still a line that separates them?

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(WARNING: I buried the lead…at least for some of you.)

by Candace Bowen, MJE

Following the 2018 March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and less than two months after the Parkland shootings, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter asked one of the school newspaper’s editors if she saw “a difference right now between journalism and activism in what you’re doing?” 

“I think that for me, the purpose of journalism is to raise the voices of people who maybe don’t have a voice,” one of The Eagle Eye newpaper’s editors, Rebecca Schneid, replied.

Then the editor added, “And so I think that in its own right, journalism is a form of activism.”

Even though she later said she did see “distinctions between the two,” the Twitterverse exploded with reactions.

Some were critical, saying this is why journalism is having problems and reiterating the importance on sticking to the facts. Others – other journalists, too – agreed with Schneid and pointed out examples of journalists making a difference and being advocates.

But what does this exchange that happened a year and a half ago mean today?

It’s an example of the ethical dilemma student and commercial media face today, and the focus of the 15thannual Poynter KSU Media Ethics Workshop: Act. Action. Activism?

The daylong event will be at Kent State University Thursday, Sept. 19, but it will also be streamed live from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and archived for future viewing so you can watch all or parts of it from anywhere.

And here’s the lead I buried:Perhaps the three best parts for high school media advisers and their students: 

  • Keynote speakers at from 12:30 – 1:45 p.m. EDT will be Melissa Falkowski and Eric Garner, media advisers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. You’ll be able to tweet questions for them, too.
  • Plus two lesson plans are downloadable from the site. Just scroll down below the sponsor list. These include one you can do to get your students thinking about the ethical issue of “just the facts” vs. covering activism. Watching the keynote and other parts of the workshop would be a bonus, but these are also standalone assignments. 

The other lesson plan has students think about how they would have covered the May 4thshootings at Kent State if today’s social media and technology had been available 50 years ago in 1970. A PowerPoint includes the NBC Nightly News report of that event, WKSU’s radio version and two area newspapers’ coverage. It’s a good history lesson and also a very interactive assignment to get students thinking about the effectiveness of today’s various platforms.

  • On top of these, the Center for Scholastic Journalism will award $500 to the school media program with best coverage of activism. This can be a package in any media and by multiple students. Details will be announced during the workshop at 1:45 p.m. EDT and available on the website or from Candace Bowen, cbowen@kent.edu.

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