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Mirror, mirror on the wall: leadership in the digital age


Expanding scholastic journalism into the digital environment is like delving into the world of fantasy, complete with magic mirrors that enlighten and show implications for the future and connections to the past.

Our dilemma is how to decide what traditional journalism standards are worthy of transfer to the magical world of digital media and, in particular, whether those standards include editorial leadership and extended reporting.

It’s still the mirror versus the candle debate — should journalists simply reflect reality to their audiences or should they shine light into the dark corners and make their world a better place?  Our new tools — all those digital bells and whistles —  offer leadership opportunities  but also hold challenges to that leadership.

Even now, in digital media’s initial stages of growth, a quick check of school Web sites shows a number do not publish staff editorials. Some do not expand their reporting beyond that of  showing what surrounds them. What is reported includes cafeteria menus, game scores and requests to get involved in school activities. In some cases it’s even hard to differentiate between fact and opinion writing. The I dominates the we of editorial leadership.

JEA president Jack Kennedy said possible causes for the disappearance of editorial leadership in scholastic journalism could include:
• students are scared.
• advisers are scared.
• everyone is turned off by the proliferation of ill-considered rhetoric in the media.
• we (students and advisers) are not very comfortable with persuasive essay style.
• readers simply do not look to their own student press for leadership.

How these sites and online media in general will perform a classic leadership role isn’t clear yet. But unless we take time to address leadership issues, including those above or ones similar, scholastic journalism’s potential will be thwarted. The future effectiveness of student media may well depend directly on how they employ today’s standards in creating content for new media.

Should those standards be like the traditional mirror or candle, or should we create some new blend? How will student media lead? Or will they?

Part 3 will examine possibilities and offer some direction.

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