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Make it matter: Scholastic journalism
must do more than give facts QT45

Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Kristin Taylor
How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it?

Professional journalists have struggled with this problem for years. Before the advent of the internet and social media, news producers — whether newspaper, radio or broadcast — were citizens’ primary source of information. News consumers found out about terrorists attacks and new government policies when they opened the morning paper or turned on the evening news.

In modern times, however, those gatekeepers have lost control. Now people have more information than they know what to do with. This flood of data creates a number of problems — especially in terms of helping people separate fact from fiction — but I want to focus today on the issue it creates in terms of engagement.

If news consumers have the facts about an event — or at least think they do — why should they care when the paper publishes a story about it? We hope they care because they trust traditional news sources to have a vetting process for their stories; unlike Tweets at 2 a.m., these stories have been fact-checked and include a variety of primary and expert sources to ensure truthfulness in a holistic sense. News literate consumers know the value of good journalism, we hope, and will therefore seek it out.

Beyond getting the facts right, good journalism has a larger responsibility to serve as sense-maker. “When most readers say they expect journalists to tell them what’s happening — whether that’s the latest outrages reported out of Kharkiv or city council in Kalamazoo — they mean connect the dots,” Ken Doctor writes. “No, they don’t want opinion — they want to know how the facts fit together to make an understandable whole.”

This is what sets major news sources such as the New York Times apart from local news sources, Doctor argues. “It’s authority,” he writes. “You read the Times to understand. Sometimes it does a better job of that than others, but its great success in reader revenue shows us its audience gets that part of the value equation. Yes, readers can get the facts of the Gaza War free in so many places, but they can’t get a volume of rich, contextual stories from both sides of the conflict elsewhere every day.”

In his essay “Journalism’s Moral Responsibility: Three Questions,” Bill Mitchell argues journalism has a moral obligation to cover important stories and help readers understand their importance. He poses three crucial questions:

  1. Do news organizations help citizens and communities, including political leaders, identify and respond to the most significant threats to well-being?
  2. Do news organizations pursue a well-grounded definition of what constitutes substantive coverage?
  3. Do news organizations take responsibility for how their work is pursued and how it is received?

The key, he argues, is to make important news salient. “In moral journalism, salient is more than important, interesting, or relevant. It’s more than selling a story that no one would otherwise read, or dumping it on an ignorant world with the righteous justification that it ought to be read. For journalists, Salient is a moral term, not a marketing one,” he writes. “Our moral responsibility is to cover significant threats to well-being, substantively, in such a way that our coverage leaps out, protrudes, and is strikingly and conspicuously prominent. So that it sears the conscience of our fellow citizens.”

He points to Laurel Leff’s research on the Times’ coverage of the Holocaust during 1939-1945. Leff found the Times did cover the Holocaust, but coverage tended to be on inside pages and was missing in editorial commentary and summaries of important news. In her report,

Leff writes, “Despite the detailed, credible information that was available, the American public actually did not know about the Holocaust while it was happening because mainstream American newspapers never presented the story of the extermination of the Jews in a way that highlighted its importance.” In other words, Mitchell concludes, “the Times had the story. It just didn’t make it salient.”

Mitchell’s essay aims at national and global news sources and news events on a much larger scale than those typical at a high school, clearly, but I believe this raises important questions for the moral responsibilities of scholastic journalists. If they want their reporting to matter — if they want their peers to read more than the humor columns or resta

Here are my suggestions for reworking Mitchell’s three questions for a scholastic journalism staff:

  1. Do you help members of the school community, including school and local leaders, identify and respond to the most significant problems affecting the community?
  2. Do you pursue a well-grounded definition of what constitutes substantive coverage, going beyond the who, what and where to explore how and why?
  3. Do you take responsibility for how your work is pursued

Although these questions are not a complete solution, they are a starting point for creating greater engagement without abandoning the most important stories.


Journalists should present relevant information in context so the audience has adequate information on which to base decisions. Context is just as important as factual accuracy and can help readers fully understand an issue and its relevance to their daily lives.

Social Media Post/Topic:

How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it? Make it salient.


Staff members should not only fact-check their information but should also ask themselves questions such as “What does this story mean to my readers?” and “What do I want my readers to take away from this information?” This means gathering not only the 5Ws and H but also connecting dots for readers by helping them see related ideas, important relationships or significant background information. By assuming a topic is new to readers, editors can revise from the perspective of the audience and look for any holes that might be present.


  • Reporters should address all 5Ws and H. Training materials and checklists in the staff manual also should address helping readers understand what the information means and why it’s significant.
  • Part of the process may including asking members with no prior knowledge of a story to give feedback before publication or airing on whether the information provided is clear and paints a full picture of what is happening.
  • The staff manual should include material about how to solicit feedback from readers about what kinds of stories, details or information they need in order to better understand current events and make content salient.
  • Student media staffs should label analysis and opinion content so readers understand these are not objective news pieces.



Good stories provide context, American Press Institute

Informing the news: The need for knowledge-based reporting, Journalists’ Resource

The newsonomics of how and why, Nieman Lab

Journalism’s Moral Responsibility: Three Questions, Poynter

10 essential principles from The Elements of Journalism, American Press Institute

“Context” is the new flavor for journalism, The Pomo Blog

Fast-Paced Journalism’s Neglect of Nuance and Context, Nieman Report

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How much information is enough for a story? An ethics lesson

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Visual Reporting | 0 comments


How much information is enough for a story?
by John Bowen
Students will explore the following questions: What makes a good headline? What makes a good infographic? What makes a good multimedia package? Is the practice of “All you need to know about X” bad for journalism? In working on those questions, students will also work on formulating corrections for weak practices. They will also work toward forming defenses of stronger processes and policies. One way or another, students will decide the kind of policy they would develop to create an effective and credible news practice. This could involve guidelines or policy for the staff manual.

• Students will read and be able to critique an article about coverage cliches
• Students will examine the role coverage cliches play in the media
• Students will draft a policy or guidelines about using this type coverage in their media

Common Core State Standards
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others

150 minutes

Materials / resources
• The absolute worst cliche online today

Lesson step-by-step
Day 1
1. Background — 15 minutes
Have students read the article,The absolute worst cliché online today. Ask students to either highlight or underline important aspects of the article.

2. Pair work — 10 minutes
Students should prepare a 25-word statement of belief about the points the author makes. If they are not familiar with the practices noted, have them use Internet access to see examples.

3. Work with article concepts — 25 minutes
Once students have read the article and completed their statement, have students find three examples online of the process the author talks about, two in news coverage and one in something else. Students should be ready to discuss the newsvalue, cohesiveness and credibility of the information in these pieces.

Day 2:
1. Link to the last class – 5 minutes

2. Small group discussion – 20 minutes
Divide the class into groups of five to discuss the Washington Post article and the examples they found. Write down their discussion using this handout.

Questions they might address include:
• Do headlines like the ones in your articles catch reader attention, provide enough information or set the stage for misinformation? Or, something else?
• How do you react to the examples you found? Did they present complete and cohesive information so readers have enough of the story to take action or feel they are informed?
• Who or what were the sources of the information? Was the information presented objectively, or did that matter? Could you verify the information presented, and through reliable sources?
• Discuss what you found in relation to the author of “All you need”s points. Do you agree, disagree? Does the author support her points?
• Do you feel the examples – and the author’s point – indicates a bad journalistic practice? Why or why not? If a good practice, how would you defend it? Be specific.

3. Policy drafting and poster creation – 25 minutes
Once the groups have discussed these questions, have each group work as a team to prepare a policy or guideline for your staff manual on the practice of “All you need to know” headlines and approaches. Once the team is finished, have them create a poster of visual means of expressing their position to share with the rest of the class.

Day 3
1. Presentation and assessment – 50 minutes
Students should share their poster and team statements. Students should try to reach an agreement for a working position usable for the staff manual.

Use this section to provide teachers changes to the lesson plan to accommodate students at different skill levels or in different learning environments. If this involves different materials or resources, list those in the Materials/Resources section.


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Information worth knowing

Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Looking for new topics for your staff or for lessons?

Take note of these current topics and issues:

• The US Supreme Court refused to hear a Pennsylvania school district’s appeal of the “I (heart) boobies” federal appeals court decision.

• Storytelling is the same no matter the platform. The takeaway: “The other model is called gossip. And journalism was invented to be an antidote to gossip,” says CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley about not having time to check information before publishing.

• In Accurate, Fair & Safe: The Ethics of Social News,  Mandy Jenkins and Andy Carver explore basic ethics for citizen journalists, and arguably, for scholastic media as well.

• When Getty Images released 35 million of its images earlier this month, it created the possibility of interesting ethical and legal questions. Will scholastic journalists use their images – and how.

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