Category Archives: Journalism

Reflecting (on) Democracy: Why Journalism Matters

This is #10 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my time in Montclair University’s Leadership Associates Program and how it prompted me to discuss scholastic journalism’s ability to nurture “the whole child.” It wasn’t until I received the Spring 2016 issue of Student Press Law Center’s Report magazine, though, that I realized another of LAP’s widely discussed topics also related to the importance of scholastic journalism: democracy.

In “Momentum swings toward legal protections for student journalists,” SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said, “Scholastic journalism is finally receiving recognition as a resource worth saving, in part because of the recognized national crisis in preparing young people to participate intelligently in the political process.”

It wasn’t until I read LoMonte’s words that I realized the discussions I had all week at Montclair actually related not only to theoretical democracy in the classroom, but also, quite literally, to our country’s democracy outside the classroom. And that’s where the importance of scholastic journalism lies.

My first year teaching journalism will be a particularly special one because we are in the midst of arguably one of the most controversial and discussed president elections in our nation’s history. Coverage is abundant and ripe for discussion in a journalism classroom. Now is the best time to teach students how to use the news to inform themselves of presidential platforms, to analyze and evaluate the credibility of the news outlets in their coverage, or to read up on platform issues and see which ones line up with students’ beliefs and values.

Although not every school has a journalism program (which, consequently, is the crusade behind this entire blog series), these activities can certainly align with Common Core State Standards and find an appropriate place in the English classroom.

Without the analysis and inquiry taught in journalism, students may not take the time to educate themselves on issues that directly affect their lives, even though at least a quarter of them are old enough to vote and sway the polls. They may not even feel compelled to partake in the democratic process at all. This lack of civic participation goes against everything we hope to instill in our students.

Cutting scholastic journalism programs, however, is not the only thing stifling the survival of citizen participation in and preservation of our democracy; in many states, secondary and collegiate administration censorship is impeding students’ rights to free speech, as well.

In his“letter from the editor” for the Spring 2016 issue of Report, LoMonte includes a quote from U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. when she spoke to the Senate in March regarding such censorship: ‘“That is not an environment that values and empowers student voices,’ …‘and it’s not a climate that is conducive to effective and learning civic participation. We can and must do better.’”

This silencing from administration, unfortunately, does not cease when students graduate high school; a place typically known for increased academic and social freedom, the collegiate world is also experiencing bouts of censorship, as well; but that, I’m afraid, is a whole other topic for a whole other blog post…

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Educating “The Whole Child”: Why Journalism Matters

This is #9 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

This week, I am participating in a Leadership Associates Program at Montclair University as part of its teacher renewal program. In preparation for our weeklong endeavor, we were asked to read several articles on leadership, civic learning, and democracy within schools. One article that particularly got my attention was “What Does It Mean to Educate the Whole Child?” by Nel Noddings.

Noddings asks, “What are the proper aims of education? How do public schools serve a democratic society? What does it mean to educate the whole child?” In my notes, I wrote a list of words and phrases I thought answered Noddings’s questions: more than skills, passion, inquiry, lifelong learning, morals and values.

All of these ideal aims for our students and our democratic society can be learned, explored, and nurtured in our schools’ journalism classes.

More Than Skills

Scholastic journalists learn more than skills to assess in the classroom; they build relationships within their communities that they normally would not; they bolster their self-confidence in writing, values, and speaking; they gain a sense and knowledge of the world around them.

Passion

The more students read, think, and write about what’s happening in their own schools, communities, and worlds, the more they cannot help but feel invested in these things. These happenings affect them and their loved ones. They realize quickly that their reporting and journalism can truly affect change because the administration and community is actually listening to them. They also may gain a passion for talking to people, finding the story, getting to the truth, finding unique story angles to call their own, or maybe even writing.

Inquiry

What is really going on here? Do I trust what I’m being told? Whose story do I want to tell? What is the best way to influence or emotionally touch my readers? What matters most to my readers and my community? How can I affect change, make people feel, and make them want to affect change, too? Journalism allows students to not only figure out how to use their reporting to help facilitate change in schools and communities, but it also teaches them to consider their audience and question what they read and its source.

Lifelong Learning

I’d be hard pressed to find people who immerse themselves into the news for a journalism class and never read another article again once that class is over. Once someone gets a taste for knowing what’s going on in the world, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to it afterward. Ideally, students will leave a journalism class with the “news bug,” albeit a healthy, skeptical one.

Morals and Values

Journalists are often called “watchdogs.” They safeguard citizens from the potential misdealings of businesses and government. Journalism instills the idea that truth is the utmost priority in news and telling stories. Representing people in the correct light, respecting someone’s privacy, helping bring to light injustices, being courteous to sources, honoring a deadline, and protecting the identity of sources if needed. All these are taught to student journalists early on, and whether or not they pursue journalism as a career, those morals and values remain with them.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

First Amendment Rights, Censorship, and Law and Ethics: Why Journalism Matters

This is #8 in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

The First Amendment is arguably the most important freedom for US citizens. We recognize the value of freedom of speech and how few countries grant this right to its citizens, but the First Amendment is so much more than that.

For those who haven’t taken a government class in a while, in addition to freedom of speech, the First Amendment includes freedoms of assembly, petition, religion, and the press. Journalism students understand the nuances of that last freedom. Just as freedom of speech does not allow someone to say “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, there are circumstances where journalists are not protected under the First Amendment, and rightfully so; therefore, scholastic journalism programs help young people understand when and how to use their voices, especially when their readership   extends beyond their teachers.

Unprotected speech includes libel and slander. While libel is written and slander is spoken, both occur when one provides a false statement that significantly damages another’s reputation. While the truth remains a defense against both charges, journalists need to be wary of legal repercussions. Fighting words, imminent threats, and obscenities are also considered unprotected speech.

Student journalists need to take extra care, though, as they function under limited or nonpublic forums. While open or public forums allow anyone to contribute to the publication, school newspapers are usually either nonpublic forums, where administration reserves the right to prior review (approving content before publication) or limited forums, where the audience expands beyond the school community and the administration has a written or unwritten policy advocating student choice in publication content.

Another restriction for student journalists is that they are not necessarily protected under First Amendment rights if their reporting disturbs the learning environment of the school. Journalism students learn about several court cases related to students’ First Amendment rights, including Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al. In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled the school had a right to censor articles published about teen pregnancy and divorce that referenced specific students within the school. The judges ruled that the censorship of school publications can occur when it is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Journalism shows students in a very authentic way that considering one’s audience truly does matter. Not taking into consideration what to say and whom it is said about can land not only the journalism students themselves in real, legal hot water, but the advisers, administration, and school, as well.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on First Amendment rights and censorship fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.D
    Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

The Importance of Journalism in Light of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting

This is the next post in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

 

 

 

Last week was an important one for journalism. The myriad tragedies made many turn to the media for insight and analysis and it’s important to consider the role that scholastic journalism can play both in providing a space for students to explore tough issues, and for cultivating the critical literacy skills we’ve all needed to comprehend events like the Orlando shooting.

LGBTQ rights are now addressed more and more within school districts, as my own district recently experienced; but as progressive as some districts are, others remain hesitant to address and accept gay and transgender rights among youth.

Pascack Hills High School’s “Trailblazerprovided continuous coverage of our district’s Board of Education meetings as they approved a transgender policy that would give equal rights to LGBTQ students. They saw the passion to pass this policy, as well as the vehement opposition to the policy, and even witnessed a threat of political action against our district, should we ultimately approve the policy.

Our staff earned a lot of regional and national scholastic recognition this year, but this continuous coverage was undoubtedly my proudest moment as an adviser. Students had a topic they were passionate about and remained dedicated to informing the whole school and surrounding community about it; and although their unsigned editorial on the policy made their personal feelings on the matter clear, their news coverage of the policy remained unbiased.

Scholastic journalism provides an objective space where students can discuss gay and transgender rights. They can read about what’s happening to and within the LGBTQ community, as well as express their own concerns and opinions through editorials. Writing is cathartic, and considering the following statistics from Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth and Caitlin L. Ryan’s article on addressing LBGT topics in language arts curricula—writing may even be an essential outlet for the gay and transgender community:

  • “Only 18.5% of LGBT students surveyed in grades 6-12 reported having an LGBT-inclusive curriculum” (Kosciw et al., 2014).
  • “. . . 2-3.7 million children [are] currently being raised by LGBT parents” (Gates 2014).

Not only does scholastic journalism help inform and comfort students through the written word, but it also helps facilitate political and social change. John Pruitt, in his article “Heterosexual Readers in Search of Queer Authenticity through Self-Selected LGBT Novels,” said, “. . . these discussions can inspire both large-scale political action and less precarious face-to-face interpersonal interactions to affect social change.”

Political and social change, however, does not stop with gay and transgender rights. Gun laws have also been under heavy scrutiny in the past few years.

Journalism and thorough reporting help to bring incidents like these to light; they inform the public, help readers form their own opinions, and deepen understanding to combat stereotypes and build support for policy change.

“If you are an adviser and are looking for other ways to get your community involved in the conversation, encourage your staff to do the following:”

  1. Write an unsigned editorial. These are great for having staff members collaborate on an argumentative/persuasive piece.
  2. Create a poll. Polls can be created fairly easily on any Web platform, like WordPress. If your Web service does not offer this option, you can create polls on Twitter. Even better, link an article from your school’s website onto the poll or reference a school article that appeared in print.
  3. Have staff members go around the school to ask students, faculty, and administration to comment on the topic at hand. These can be published as a sidebar to a news article, filmed as a video, or recorded as a podcast.
  4. Create an infographic using Piktochart. This can be done with information about the topic or survey completed by staff and students regarding their opinions on the topic.

After tweeting about a student article and providing the link, invite readers to comment either below the article itself or on Twitter with the hashtag of your choice. For example, if you tweet about a student article regarding the Orlando nightclub shooting, ask students to share their thoughts on gun control laws using the hashtag #GunReformNOW.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

The Gift of Gab: Part 3 (Why Journalism Matters #6)

This is Part 3 of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

In the final post of the “Gift of Gab” series for Why Journalism Matters, pitching articles must be discussed. Yes, many editors dole out article assignments to their writers because certain subjects and events need to be covered; but when a rookie journalist looks to make a name for herself, pitching to editors is crucial. Pitching articles not only shows initiative, but also proves that a journalist has her finger on the pulse of what’s newsworthy (read: timely, unique, prominent, local, etc.).

In the world of scholastic journalism, though, in order to effectively pitch, students again must use refined communication skills to convey ideas; even the most compelling article idea can fall flat to an editor if the reporter’s pitch proves poor.

At Pascack Hills, Trailblazer staff typically pitch ideas orally at regularly scheduled meetings. Students must present ideas loudly and clearly for the entire staff to hear, as there are more than 50 members on staff. If they wish to cover their own pitch, they have to convince the section editor that the idea or event is worthy of coverage. They must be able to clearly and concisely articulate their thoughts, as not everyone knows about the topics presented and there’s only a limited amount of time to hear everyone’s ideas (not to mention the teenage attention span is short . . .).

When a pitch is presented, students are given the chance to volunteer to cover the article if the pitcher doesn’t want to cover it. At that point, effective pitching is even more crucial. If the pitcher believes in the value of the article, and this value is not effectively conveyed to the rest of the staff, she will hear crickets. Communicative skills like clear tone, voice projection, body language, intonation, clear reasoning, and even counterarguments are essential for students who are also scholastic journalists.

If a staff member misses a meeting, she can add an idea to a pitch meeting Google Doc that’s created and submitted to the staff, post-meeting. Here, brevity and strong word choice are crucial, as students have but a few words to summarize and “sell” their article ideas to the rest of the staff.

English teachers see these skills all the time when students write claims for argumentative essays or have to get their points across in Socratic seminars and class discussions. If you want to integrate pitching articles directly into your English classes, have a lesson where students come prepared to pitch article ideas for a mock newspaper. Maybe it’s a newspaper set in the 1920s to go along with your unit on The Great Gatsby in order to provide historical context; or maybe you simply want to focus on current events. Either way, pitching article ideas gets students reading nonfiction texts, analyzing the world around them, and creating effective arguments.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on pitching articles fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9-10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4

Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.4

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.