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Intense times require intense journalists

Posted by on Mar 22, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller, MJE

The COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping the country, let alone the world, has had this simple impact on journalists – intense times require intense journalism.

And that starts with all journalists and journalism educators.

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An activity for a dose of skepticism

Posted by on Mar 4, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Lindsay Coppens, The Harbinger, Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, Mass.

Scholastic journalists, like all journalists, need to be skeptical. Not only of news they read and of sources they interview, but of themselves.

Journalists should question everything, including each other. 

If student journalists aren’t willing to take a hard look with a discerning eye at the journalism they produce, they will put themselves at more risk of criticism, and possibly condemnation, from others.

And while we all work to question and to think critically, I’ve found when a mid or late-year lull hits, my editors and reporters tend to get soft in their skepticism. They stop questioning as much. They are more likely to simply accept what they’re told, what they hear or what they read, even when editing each others’ work.

This easy acceptance can lead to articles that don’t report as incisively and thoroughly as they should. It can also result in “clerkism,” what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel define in their book Blur as “the practice of uncritically accepting the official version of things.”

If you find your staff hitting one of those skeptical lulls where they may not be digging for facts, verifying news or questioning each other’s reporting as thoroughly as they should, pausing to look back at previous reporting with a critical eye could help them get reenergized and refocused.

Here’s an activity that could be done in a class period or staff meeting. It could even become part of regular routines:

First have the editors-in-chief lead a discussion about why skepticism is important, for both news consumers and reporters. Then they should discuss questions such as these: When have readers been skeptical of your publication? When have you been skeptical as reporters and editors? Are there times you realized after the fact, whether from reader criticism or from your own reflection, that the reporting you published was not as incisive or as accurate as it should have been?

Perhaps even have them read and discuss pages 26-34 of Blur, which focus on the importance of skepticism and verification.

Then spend some time looking at their publication’s coverage in the past months with a skeptical eye. Encourage them to question critically and agree they won’t take it personally if a piece they worked on is identified as falling short. The goal is to become stronger as individuals and as a group while practicing skeptical thinking.

Have they accepted and reported what those in power have stated without questioning or verifying? Have they played into any particular interest groups without realizing it? Are there places where now, with hindsight, they see they got the story wrong or didn’t dig deep enough to ask questions and get the full truth?

Look closely at the publication’s coverage as a whole and at individual articles, especially those on complex topics and those that involve administrative decisions and actions. Have they simply affirmed what readers already know and were told thorough announcements, meetings and emails? Have they accepted and reported what those in power have stated without questioning or verifying? Have they played into any particular interest groups without realizing it? Are there places where now, with hindsight, they see they got the story wrong or didn’t dig deep enough to ask questions and get the full truth?

After skeptically analyzing and discussing, as a group identify ways reporting and coverage could be improved. What should reporters do to be sure they move beyond clerkism? How should editors question skeptically as part of the feedback process? Are there any topics they should follow up on to provide more thorough coverage? 

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Reporting controversy, issues student journalists can tell best

Posted by on Feb 24, 2020 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
The above statement is a good reminder in 2020 of our social responsibility to report all aspects of teen issues – those with good, bad and impact – because our audiences  have a right to know.

These are stories student journalists can tell best.

As journalists we do not actively protest, lead walkouts or engage others We examine issues and events with diverse points of view, in context, accurate and complete that might as effectively create change.

We are mirrors to reflect events and candles to illuminate causes and issues that surround us, like the March 14 and March 24 planned protests, marches and discussions initiated by student reactions to the shooting deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Our journalistic leadership should not prevent expression of our personal feelings and views. Our first obligation is to the truth as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in The Elements of Journalism.

“A community that fails to reflect  its community deeply will not succeed,” the authors write in Elements, third edition.”But a newspaper that does not challenge its community’s values and preconceptions will lose respect for failing to provide the honesty and leadership newspapers are expected  to offer.”

In this case and others, student media can best tell that story.

We lead when we channel our insights into reporting so communities – or societies – can make intelligent and informed decisions affecting our democracy.

To assist students as they report events and issues surrounding walkouts and protests, local and national, the SPRC begins a series of blogposts focusing on protest in America, its relevance and why student media should make every effort to report on its deeper issues.

To help start the discussion, note the following links:

  • Covering controversy  Controversy is often in the eye of the beholder. The best way to prevent a subject from becoming controversial is to use verifiable information, in context, from reliable sources – truthful, accurate, thorough and complete reporting. Students should be able to show why they used some information and not other. They should be transparent about why their coverage was important.
  • Practice sensitivity in your reporting  How do we, as today’s information consumers and creators, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin to capture something as accurately as possible? How can we overcome our own limits of perception, our biases, our experience and come to an account people will see as reliable. This essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. Controversy is in the eyes of the beholder. Our job is make sure anything controversial is reported thoroughly, accurately and coherently.
  • Respecting privacy and public space important for photographers, too  Student journalists should never invade the privacy of others while accessing information or photos for a story.However. it is their journalistic duty to know what constitutes invasion of privacy or what spaces they are legally allowed to access and what spaces they are not legally allowed to access. Student journalists should check the legal and ethical parameters of public space and the latest recommendations for journalistic activity from the Student Press Law Center.
  • Student Press Law Center online guide and resources for student journalists The new resource page is just one of several major steps SPLC took to ensure student journalists can cover protests, walkouts and the growing gun control discussions freely and fairly. See its news release:
  • Covering walkouts and protests   From the SPLC, this guide provides helpful information student journalists reporting protests and walk-outs.

Introductionand Civic engagement and journalism, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

The 2017 State of the First Amendment, Newseum

High School Journalism Matters, American Press Institute

Framework for 21st Century Learning, Partnership for 21st Century Learning

Civic Implications of Secondary School Journalism, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly

Principals, presidents and getting along, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission

Teaching grit for citizenship — why we must empower, not shield students, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission

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When students decide what’s newsworthy

Posted by on Feb 16, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Susan McNulty, CJE The Stampede and The Hoofbeat adviser J.W. Mitchell High School, Trinity, Florida

Yesterday, my newspaper staff distributed the February issue of The Hoofbeat to the 2000+ students at our school.

According to the staff, the issue was well received by the student body, based on the most reliable measure of teenage interest: mentions in classmates’ Snapchat stories.

The staff packed the issue with stories geared to today’s teens: advice on dating, ways to talk to a crush, tips for being single and pick-up lines. In addition to the Valentine’s Day themed stories they included hard news about our new bus loop, the HOSA and band accomplishments, electives available on campus, sports teams, fundraisers, and ways to avoid student loan debt.

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Yes Virginia, journalism still exists

Posted by on Feb 10, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller, MJE

More than a few years ago, I saw a sign on a colleague’s desk that read: “Tact:  Being able to tell someone where to go in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip.”

Heeding that advice, I’ve become a hell of a travel agent. 

Case in point. I was recently chatting with an acquaintance who wanted to know if I was still teaching journalism.

Of course, I said.

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