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A free summer seminar for experienced high school journalism advisers

From the 23 teachers who attended this workshop in July 2019, we have included Solutions Journalism Story Ideas, other Story Ideas for a whole range of topics and Tech Examples of something they learned, many of these for data visualization, plus some resources anyone can use in the future for these topics.

(Not) Just Three Things

In this photo, Rachel Dissell, Jan Leach and Sara Catania lead a discussion about Solutions Journalism in the high school classroom.

Rachel Dissell, Jan Leach and Sara Catania lead a discussion about Solutions Journalism in the high school classroom. (photo by Amy Medlock-Greene)

Winding up a week at the Center for Scholastic Journalism’s Advanced Advising Workshop (hosted at Kent State), 22 fellow scholastic media advisers and I have been challenged to come up with the three things we’ll take back to our own scholastic journalism classes this year.

Just three things? After five days of training, discussion and hands-on activities spanning dozens of topics, that’s a daunting task.

Perhaps I’ll choose Alternative Story Forms as one of my Top Three takeaways. Story forms like Scorecards, Newsmaker Profiles or Timelines can be used to engage readers in ways traditional news and feature coverage might not. Then we can use tools like Tableau Maps, Infograms or Dataviz to choose the best ways to convey the information we want to present.

Or maybe Audience Engagement as a whole will make it into the Top Three. No matter which social media tool our scholastic journalists employ, they can use each of those platforms in various ways to engage with our audience. Maybe we’ll use Twitter threads to explain our reporting process, link to background information, or show the “human side” of our reporters. We can use Instagram to show the “lighter side” of our news content, build affinity for our scholastic journalism brand, and maybe give our audience a “behind-the-scenes” look at our scholastic media operation. We can measure our audience’s engagement with our content using tools like Google Analytics, Chartbeat and Crowdtangle. Perhaps we can create a “GIF of the Week” to post on our social media channels and website. By using tools like those available through Google Maps, Canva, Steller and the KnightLab, we have a wide range of possibilities to build relationships between our community and our scholastic media programs.

What if I just choose the free tools available online as “Top Three worthy”? From the plethora of options in the Google Toolbox like Autodraw, Google Scholar, Google Trends or Flourish, we can create engaging infographics, find scholarly research and verify the authenticity of photos and videos through a Reverse Image Search. We can also work with our students to explore case studies and examples to help them identify “fake news” and become more media literate news consumers, too.

Those media literacy skills are definitely essential, so perhaps the work we did with Mandy Jenkins about verifying information should be one of the Top Three things I take home from this week. Whether we’re working together to identify and combat the spread of fake news by using Open Source Intelligence or the Online News Association’s Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, we need to take the time to work with our students to help them verify their sources by looking at the veracity of each source itself, the date and time the information was published (including EXIF data for photos), and the source’s connection to the location of the information they’re providing to the media. 

Content acquisition is just one piece of the puzzle, though. Before our scholastic journalists use the information they’ve acquired through their reporting, they need to consider ethical principles surrounding User-Generated Content as well. This is where tools like the Online News Association’s Ethics Policy, Eyewitness Media Hub’s guidelines or content agreements like the one used by Storyful would come in handy.

Maybe I’ll implement the tools surrounding the concept of Solutions Journalism in my classes this year. Using the four essential qualities of Solutions Journalism, my students and I could analyze pieces that have already been published in order to generate ideas for their own Solutions  Journalism-oriented work. We will need to remember that Solutions Journalism is an approach to storytelling, and its point is to broaden the questions we are asking as journalists so we go beyond simply reporting on the problem. This approach opens the problem to new questions used to investigate solutions to the problem while keeping in mind the characteristics of a Solutions Journalism curriculum: it is objective journalism that relies on “skeptical knowing” and media literacy to tell the whole, cohesive story while maintaining a people-centric approach to storytelling. It also ties in ethical principles inherent in all forms of reporting, but primarily means that caring does not mean advocacy.  Solutions Journalism in the classroom provides the response, evidence, insights and limitations of the story topic while perhaps focusing on a “slice” of a broader issue.

Yet another Top Three contender might be the skills and tools we learned for coaching writing–understanding that coaching is about the forest whereas editing is about the trees. It’s also important for us to understand that coaching writers is a process and works best when it’s implemented along the way (from rough to final draft). It involves collaborating, collecting and conferring with student writers, allowing them to develop well-written content throughout the process.

But then there’s also 360-degree photography and video, podcasting, blogging, agile development, data scraping, having difficult conversations, legal elements of scholastic journalism such as accessing public records via the Freedom of Information Act, understanding FERPA, and copyright. We also learned about the free press rights of student journalists including the Courts’ decisions in cases such as Tinker v Des Moines, Bethel v Fraser, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, Dean v. Utica, R.O. v. Ithaca City School District and Morse v. Frederick as well as students’ ethical responsibilities when reporting, writing and producing their stories.

All-in-all, this week was one of the best experiences I’ve had in more than two decades of advising student media. I may struggle to narrow it all down to just three things, but that’s OK–I know I’ll be referring to my notes and concepts learned during this workshop for years to come.            


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