Category Archives: Journalism

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. 

The Gift of Gab: Part 2 (Why Journalism Matters #5)

This is Part 2 of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana RomeThere seems to be a negative connotation to the phrase “soliciting ads.” Businesses post “No Soliciting” signs on their doors, and those who work in sales are often portrayed as sleazy and conniving.

Still, procuring advertisements is a reality for any publication, for-profit or nonprofit; printing expenses are a necessary evil, especially for scholastic newspaper publications with limited funds. As a result, students must go out and solicit ads from local businesses. This is not a bad thing, though; in fact, it may be the best thing for a publication’s readership, community, and students. The latter particularly benefit from procuring ads because it bolsters communications skills.

This idea came to light at Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s 2016 Spring Convention. A teacher presented a session on how she has made procuring ads a requirement for her newspaper club and journalism class. At first, I was very skeptical: how can you force students to go to random local businesses and act like salespeople?

The more she defended her notions, though, the more they made sense.

Developing a business plan: In order for students to procure advertisements, they first need to develop a business plan: what businesses they plan to visit, how they plan to introduce themselves, how an advertisement in the newspaper will benefit a particular business, and how to counter a business owner’s reasons for not purchasing an ad. It’s similar to writing an outline for an essay in English class; students need to know what they’re trying to accomplish, why they are accomplishing it, and how they can go about persuading others that their course of action is the right one.

Public speaking (rhetorical devices and persuasion): My ninth-grade unit on Julius Caesar includes a study of Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches for rhetorical devices and persuasive techniques. If time allows, I may have students write and perform their own speeches in front of the class, but how much better is the experience when students have to perform their speeches in real-life scenarios? When the stakes are higher and more realistic than a class grade? In order to present their pitch and acquire the ads, students need to know how to formally and professionally introduce themselves, speak slowly and clearly, have relaxed and enthusiastic body language, and maintain eye contact. Not many students have to take an authoritative role when speaking to an adult, so when they are asked to procure ads for the newspaper, this experience is new and potentially scary, but it can be extremely rewarding.

Making connections and networking: Not only does soliciting advertisements help students with communication skills and gain revenue for the newspaper, but it also helps foster a relationship between the school’s journalism program and the larger community. With the advent of the Internet and social media, gone are the days where a student newspaper is only read by students, staff, and administration. Most papers, like our Trailblazer, have made the transition to online, where community members and essentially anyone around the globe can access and read a school’s newspaper. Therefore, strengthening community bonds helps strengthen, broaden, and increase readership in a way that was not possible before. Students help local businesses gain exposure, and student newspapers gain revenue to flourish as more authentic publications. In the same way, students learn how to network. Maybe a particular exchange between a student and business owner leads the student to get a job at that business over the summer.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on interviewing 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.9-10.1.A

Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C

Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D

Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

  • 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.L.9-10.1

Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

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 1 (Why Journalism Matters #4)

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

Alana RomeNo matter what career a student pursues after high school, almost all of them require some semblance of communication skills. Whether it’s email correspondence, the interview process, collaboration with colleagues or some form of persuasion and argumentation (sales, advertising, law, etc.), students must leave high school with a certain degree of comfort and clarity in conveying thoughts and ideas.

Scholastic journalism is probably the only class that provides built-in experience with real-life communication situations. Through the next few posts of the Why Journalism Matters series, I will bring you through various ways journalism classes and newspaper clubs teach vital communication skills to students in authentic ways that other classes don’t.

Part 1: Interviews

Before a journalist and her source even sit down for an interview, the interview must be scheduled. Journalists have to approach this request with professionalism and tact, especially if the interview has the possibility of meandering into precarious topics. Like the rest of us, a source obviously has a limited amount of time for interviews, and if he or she is highly sought after, a journalist may be vying for precious time with competing publications. A well-crafted email request or a friendly phone call that convinces the source that an interview with you is worth the time may be just what it takes to secure an exclusive.

At the actual interview, which is ideally in person or over the phone, the journalist is not just responsible for firing premade questions at her source. The source is still a person, and no one appreciates feeling like he is under interrogation by a robot. A journalist’s first job is to make the source feel comfortable; therefore, scholastic journalism gives students the chance to work on “small talk,” imperative in most real-world workplaces.

More than just having the ability to speak well, though, journalists must also listen well! They cannot stick to the 20 questions they prepared in the days prior to the interview; they have to ask follow-up questions and let the source’s answers drive the interview in the natural direction it takes. Sometimes the best stories come from interviews that start to feel less like interviews and more like casual conversations. Not that a journalist should manipulate her sources into a false sense of security; but most journalists enter the field because they love to talk to people and tell others’ stories when no one else has, or will.

Next week, I will discuss how soliciting advertisements further nurtures students’ communicative skills and prepares them for the real world in only the way scholastic journalism can.

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

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.A

Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C
  • Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2
  • Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.3
  • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.6
  • Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9-10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

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.