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Rethinking journalism as it enters a period of transition, including accuracy and truth


Given the extraordinary events of the past three years, and ones now historically burnt into community memory, student journalists’ assignment sheets must now develop new concepts of story value and focus … from context to what local means in coverage

by John Bowen, MJE

With a new school year come new friends, opportunities and responsibilities. Some are memorable, at least for a while, because they stand out.

An example is Sept. 11, 2001, both for national events and for local ones that followed. Students then faced difficult content decisions. In some cases, these were obligations to localize national events but also to focus on their local issues and implications. 

Typically, school story choices can be difficult because not all student media have a history of such reporting. After all, students are drilled with the concept these are “the best years of our lives,” and not to events that call for depth and issue reporting.

Given the extraordinary events of the past three years, and ones now historically burned into community memory, student journalists’ assignment sheets must develop new concepts of story value and focus.

Cover focusing on local angles of Sept. 11, 2001 published by an Ohio news magazine

Study these examples of localizing content based on importance and impact, and then on localization or “stories you can do best:”
• Sept. 11, 2001’s national implications, the nation’s next steps compared with localization of muslim groups’ harassment in one student news magazine’s town and how other community members countered it.
• Roe v. Wade and the national reporting of issues and events surrounding abortion compared with local impact of local women traveling out of state to seek medical assistance, or how a pregnant teen’s deciding of how to handle unwanted pregnancy or even how any woman can get advice from available professionals.
• Gun control issues and national implications compared with teachers deciding the moral and ethical questions of whether to stay employed as a teacher or being part of school system directing its teachers to carry weapons

Expanded reporting like these examples are just a few student media should consider, instead of viewpoint, pro-con or other content requiring – the easy way out. Student media focus ought to report the stories they can do best.

And what makes local coverage?

Let’s include change, issues, perspective and commitment in our renovation of localization of increasingly important national issues.

For journalism students, that includes defining what to emphasize as local. An NPR podcast Aug. 7 adds examples of how it could be done, and why it works..

Their topic deals with localizing Ukraine coverage. 

Here is the podcast’s teaser: As the Russian military advances in eastern Ukraine, readers of a local news site in New York’s Hudson Valley are captivated by the accounts of one Ukrainian man. He sends dispatches about his daily life in a village outside of Kramatorsk: spinning nunchucks, feeding his cat, and tending his growing garden. Local readers are perplexed, then drawn in by surprisingly intimate accounts of his world.”

The challenge is to make journalistic sense of what is local and adds context instead as fluff (You need to listen and develop your own ideas. No plot give-away here).

The dilemma grows from the transition in how journalism treats citizen need to be engaged by truthful, credible, accurate and thorough reporting.

For example, the recent Kansas vote protecting choice concerning abortion (See  The Morning for background and coverage ideas).

Possible story angles emerge somewhat easily. 
• Can the question about what to report change content and direction as students localize stories?
• Can some examples NPR cites provide new insights into bigger themes like war and culture? 
• Can new ways of thinking (solutions journalism advocacy journalism, coverage and activism) alter how audiences and student reporters present, gather and perceive the story’s journalistic core? 
• Which story approach would best empower the audience to take action, showcasing student news media’s social responsibility to their communities?
• How much commitment do journalists and audience exhibit so a story challenges community roles with journalistic responsibility?

In “Elements of Journalism,” authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel lay framework for addressing these questions.

They wrote about the principles of Skeptical Knowing, rooted in the premise that journalism’s roles (like that of news media gatekeepers) are changing. The growth of community obligation to be a part of distribution of truthful information should not signal the end of journalism.

“We believe,” they wrote, “the end of the press’ monopoly over mediating information to the public offers the opportunity to elevate the quality of journalism.”

To support that change, the authors urge increased news media use of organizing, localizing, contextualizing and verifying as key to improving the quality of journalism. The Practices of Skeptical knowing.

Localization, Skeptical Knowing and principles only noted here will shield light on a transition we hope will increase journalistic integrity and credibility.

And that doesn’t even begin to determine a future for Journalistic Objectivity.

But that’s for other blogs. And other story possibilities.

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