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Reporting stories student journalists
can best tell

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
The above statement is a good reminder or 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.

We start our discussion with the following links and will continue March 19.

  • 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.



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Celebration and grief: Parkland journalists embody importance of student voices during Scholastic Journalism Week

Posted by on Feb 28, 2018 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Kristin Taylor
Normally, Scholastic Journalism Week is about celebrating the hard work of student journalists around the country. JEA spotlights great student coverage, publications staffs wear journalism t-shirts and sweatshirts and show off their mastery of the First Amendment. We make videos to share the inner workings of student newsrooms and get our communities engaged and excited about that work.

But this Scholastic Journalism Week, as our nation reeled from yet another horrific school shooting, the last thing on the minds of student journalists at Stoneman Douglas High School was celebration.

If you haven’t already read Alexandria Neason and Meg Dalton’s Columbia Journalism Review article “In Parkland, journalism students take on role of reporter and survivor,” start there. It describes how Parkland students began to think like journalists even before they had fully evacuated, getting footage and interviewing classmates.

The article describes how newspaper adviser Melissa Falkowski texted her students the next day and “gently nudged them to start thinking about how they might cover the events rapidly unfolding around them,” and how staffers Nikhita Nookala and Christy Ma volunteered to write that first, difficult story, using a Google doc to collaborate from home.

It’s a story about student voice and resilience in the face of unspeakable horror.

I sent this article to all my journalism students and asked them to reflect on its implications, and the conversation we had the next day was powerful. My students expressed their admiration for Nookala, Ma and the other student journalists at Stoneman Douglas. They wondered if they would have the presence of mind to think like journalists in a crisis like that and admired Nookala’s statement that she needed to “do something” to help her community in such a difficult time.

We also looked closely at this passage, which describes one reason why Parkland student journalists felt compelled to report: “This was their story. And telling it was as much about ownership as it was about beginning what will undoubtedly be a difficult reckoning with their own trauma and grief.”

Is there a more powerful statement about the importance of scholastic journalism than that? Seeking the truth while minimizing the harm done to an already traumatized community, being reporters who are also survivors and using journalism to own their community’s stories — these student journalists’ voices were and are important during this crisis.

As a complement to the CJR article, my class also talked about the op-ed in Teen Vogue called “Black Teens Have Been Fighting for Gun Reform for Years.”

The piece asks hard questions about the outpouring of support that the #neveragain movement has received in comparison to the nation’s response to black youth groups “organizing anti-violence rallies…meeting with presidential candidates, proposing policy ideas, participating in national debates, and organizing intensely to advocate for more equitable state and federal gun laws that impact black and brown people.”

Regardless of their personal opinions, this second piece was a great opportunity to talk about the concept of media framing. What role do news organizations have in framing one group as heroic and another as disruptive? Are student newsrooms also guilty of this? Do they have diverse voices in their newsrooms to ensure multiple perspectives? Why are these conversations so crucial to have when deciding how to cover teen activism and national tragedies?

For me, the answer to these questions comes down to this year’s Scholastic Journalism Week theme: “Student Voice, Student Choice.” When we support our student journalists, we support their efforts to grapple with these difficult questions and report as fairly and accurately as they can, making hard decisions about what to cover and how to cover it.

As I’ve listened to commentators marvel at the articulateness and poise of the Parkland students, I have to shake my head. They are amazing, no doubt, but anyone who thinks it’s shocking that teenagers can speak and write well, whether as journalists or activists, hasn’t spent much time around teenagers lately.

I hope no student has to report on a tragedy like Stoneman Douglas again, but I have every confidence they can if they have to.  Our job as advisers is to teach our students journalistic skills and ethics, empower them to own their stories and then get out of the way.

There is no truer celebration of Scholastic Journalism Week than that.

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