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Reaching out: Informing the community about key principles of journalism


by Marina Hendricks, SPRC member

Recently, I drafted the following plan for student journalists to use to educate their communities about the role of school publications as forums for public criticism and compromise. I did so as part of my ongoing work for “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course this semester taught by John Bowen.

“In a world where millions are spent annually by those wanting to influence public opinion, it is crucial that the news media play the role of honest broker and referee as it carries the common discussion. … So journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil write in “The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.”

“Yet in a new age, it is more important, not less, that this public discussion be built on the same principles as the rest of journalism, starting with truthfulness, facts, and verification. For a forum without regard for facts fails to inform,” the authors add.

Scholastic journalists are often hindered in their efforts to provide public forums for criticism and compromise by administrators, district officials and other well-meaning adults whose desire to safeguard schools and their students leads to acts of prior review and restraint. Students at large may not understand and appreciate their First Amendment rights, which undermines their support for the public forums of expression provided to them through their school publications. Local media professionals and local citizen may not understand and support the role of school publications as public forums in the community at large.

To address these issues, student journalists could organize a series of outreach activities. These events could be scheduled on a regular basis – once a month, once every nine weeks, once a semester – whatever best fits the school publication’s schedule. More frequent activities could take place during homeroom, lunch, breaks or other open periods during the school day. Less frequent activities could be scheduled after school, in conjunction with other events (such as parent-teacher conferences, PTO meetings, etc.), on Saturdays or even as part of a community fair or festival.

Activities could include:

1) An open house in the newsroom for anyone interested in the school publication and how it operates;

2) A scholastic journalism fair to showcase the work of student journalists in the school district, to raise First Amendment awareness and to provide training opportunities for student journalists;

3) Visits to feeder schools to train and network with aspiring young journalists;

4) Presentations to the faculty senate, PTO, booster and alumni organizations, the local school district board and local organizations to raise awareness of the school publication and its role in the school community;

5) Educational sessions with local media professionals, moderated by student journalists, to help members of the school community learn more about issues that interest them;

6) Operating booths at local events to raise awareness of the school publication, its role in the school community and the First Amendment;

7) Expanding distribution of the school publication (local library branches, malls/shopping centers, community centers, restaurants, etc.) to raise awareness of its role in the community;

8) Forming a parent booster/support group for the school publication;

9) Designating a “reader advocate” to handle questions, concerns, story suggestions, etc.

10) Preparing a “press kit” for school organizations to help them understand how to submit information, news releases, story ideas, requests for photos, etc. (Then, deliver it in person so members of the organizations can ask questions.)

*Note: We welcome your additions of outreach that work to this list. List them, plus your school, in the comments section below.




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