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Yes Virginia, journalism still exists

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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.

His response? “I didn’t think there was journalism anymore.”

Really? I asked him, then what is it.

“It’s all opinion.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I know this person’s political views, and to say we’re not on the same page is a safe bet. It’s a very safe bet.

The mere fact this guy has this kind of attitude puts not just journalists, but journalism educators in the rather unique position of making sure students understand the difference between news and opinion, and write accordingly.

It’s a basic journalistic premise, which is a core of every J-1 course.

The challenge, however, is to instill in readers, listeners, viewers, etc. that there is a difference. This is not breaking news. But it’s important because not only do many consumers of mainstream media appear to fail when it comes to differentiating between news and opinion, there are administrators who take what they see in the mainstream media as gospel and make decisions about student media based on their own cognitive dissonance.

Many need to remove the blinders they wear when consuming news. And therein lies the challenge not just for student journalists, but for all journalists.

But how can we get the blinders off? While there’s no guarantee it can be accomplished, there are a few tactics that could help.

And it starts in scholastic newsrooms.

First of all, make sure your student media has a source policy that indicates the minimum number of sources and who or what they represent. Call it transparency.  Your news consumers need to clearly see balance in not just reporting of facts, but also in where the information is from.

It’s also important to make sure the stakeholders who read or view your student media know of the transparency efforts. Including them in a masthead ensures that they are in the same place every issue.

Secondly, and this is not breaking news – fact check again and again. And like transparency efforts, make sure your news sources, as well as your news consumers, are aware of your polices and procedures for fact checking. 

Give ‘em local news. There’s a disheartening trend unfolding in the mainstream media to shrink newsrooms and reduce local coverage. This is the case at the Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers, where hedge funds, like Alden Global Capital have majority stakes in order to enhance the bottom line. 

How does this impact scholastic journalism? Focusing on their school community, and even the surrounding local area, not only enhances coverage, but also encourages civic engagement.

It’s imperative that more people realize the importance of not just journalism, but local journalism. 

It’s imperative that more people know journalism still exists and it’s more – a lot more – than just opinion.

Just be tactful how you tell them.

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