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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.

Gerst story ideas

Story Idea #1

  • Idea: Class Rank: Valuable Tool or Antiquated Tradition?
  • Type: Institutional Idea (Depth/Expanded Coverage/Multi-source & Experts Beyond the School)
  • Explanation: The district is discussing the value of class rank and whether or not it should phase out class rank.
  • Story Mission and Need
    The Board of Education and superintendent are discussing the advantages and disadvantages of having class rank. This discussion has likely evolved out of issues of a small group of competitive students taking additional summer courses and “playing the system” just to advance in GPA.
  • Why report it now?
    It is currently under consideration by the Board of Education; I am unsure of a timeline but the public is somewhat aware, but not through anything official communication from the district.
  • Essential Questions
    What are the advantages of eliminating class rank?
    What are the disadvantages of eliminating class rank?
    What role does class rank have on student academic motivation?
    What other local/state/national districts have chosen to eliminate class rank?
    How does class rank or lack thereof affect college admissions or scholarships qualification?
  • Sources to Use, Live and Non-Live (Expert, Authoritative, Knowledgeable, Bozo)
    Supervisor of Guidance or guidance counselors
    Superintendent (we were asked not to contact the Board of Ed members directly unless a student goes to a meeting, I suppose. They should contact the superintendent first)
    2018 State of College Admission report issued by the National Association for College Admission Counseling
    Students in academically competitive courses
    Students in other schools that have eliminated rank
    Record of local high schools in surrounding area/state that have made the decision to eliminate rank (some published; contact schools)
    College admissions offices (Stockton, Rutgers, Rowan)
  • Potential Issues with Sources and How to Solve Them?
    Students may not want to admit they are motivated by the numbers and the ranking.
    Not sure what insights/data guidance will have to offer other than formal research. Possibly could give insights into what percentage of students take AP/Honors or online courses during summer.
    Superintendent may not have much to offer other than it is up for consideration. Very conscious of public reaction to any district items.
  • Medium/Media to best tell the story? Why this or these choices?
    Online article (we just have a website)
    Because the story will be more in depth, it may be better suited for written article.
  • Suggested visuals?
    A map of local schools in surrounding counties that have eliminated class rank and who still uses it.
    Infographic with percentages to correspond with map (Use a StoryMap as an alternative form)
    Photograph of busses at transportation hub
  • Range of Story Angles, supporting materials
    Poll on pressure experienced from competing for class rank vs. incentives for higher performance
    Interview graduates from previous classes: class rank in college: does it feel different? Change in approach to classes?
    To what degree does class rank shape course enrollment/popularity?
    Are there classes you wish you could take but didn’t because you are on honors/AP track
  • How will the various information pieces be presented visually, alternatively?
    Embedded, marked Google Map to designate local schools and class rank status
    Featured colorful infographic with percentage of schools
  • From info-gathering to presentation, what legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions might you face, and what are some ways they might handled?
    Guidance office will not release the academic records of other students, so it may be challenging to find students competing for class rank.
    Those who are motivated to improve their ranking may appear overly competitive, aggressive, or “cut-throat” when discussing
  • Other questions, points, approaches, or media?
    N/A

Story Idea #2

  • Idea: Bussing issues affect district, affecting field trip opportunities
  • Type: Thought it couldn’t be done because of the amount of data needed.
  • Explanation: Field trip times are limited by regular bussing route obligations because of lack of resources.
  • Story Mission and Need
    Field trip times are limited by regular bussing route obligations because of lack of resources.
    Private bussing companies charge excessive amounts of money to do the trips.
    Late busses for sending districts frequently cancelled due to lack of drivers, causing transportation issues for students who participate in after school activities.
  • Why report it now?
    Field trip proposals have denied if the driver/bus cannot be back in Hammonton by time needed to do dismissal routes. Therefore, visits to locations farther away are not an option. I had two field trips proposals that were denied last year because of this reason (CSPA and PA Renaissance Faire)
  • Essential Questions
    Are more drivers needed because more students attending school than in past year?
    How many busses are in the fleet? How many students are bussed daily in the
    Is pay competitive for district bus drivers compared to working for private companies?
    How many field trips have been modified and/or cancelled because of this bussing issue?
  • Sources to Use, Live and Non-Live (Expert, Authoritative, Knowledgeable, Bozo)
    District business manager (Barbara Prettyman)
    Transportation supervisor (Toni Mazza)
    Principal Tom Ramsay or his secretary (how many field trips approved with you but not with transportation?)
    Teachers that have taken trips. What have they done in the past, why? Have you been unable because of bussing issues?
    Students: Do you go on field trip opportunities? Why or why not?
  • Potential Issues with Sources and How to Solve Them?
    Potential defensiveness from board office regarding issue (makes the district appear that it is limited student opportunities)
  • Medium/Media to best tell the story? Why this or these choices?
    Online article (we just have a website)
    Because the story will be more in depth, it may be better suited for written article.
  • Suggested visuals?
    By the Numbers infographic: number of busses in fleet, number of students transported by bus, approximate number of field trips per year.
    Or a visual with busses. Maybe one that represents 10 in an infographic.
    A Google Flourish horse-race to track number of students who rely on district bussing to attend each day over the past several years (5? 10?)
  • Range of Story Angles, supporting materials
    In a related issue, late busses for sending districts frequently cancelled due to lack of drivers, causing transportation issues for students who participate in after school activities.
    Cost of attending field trips for various activities in school – built into course or additional fee. How does it affect students financially?
  • How will the various information pieces be presented visually, alternatively?
    Could do an audio file with some of the interviews and embed them in the article or an MOS interview video next to the article with student feedback.
  • From info-gathering to presentation, what legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions might you face, and what are some ways they might handled?
    N/A (I think?)
  • Other questions, points, approaches, or media?
    This sounds like a great story to approach with solutions journalism.
    What other ways do schools take trips? Alternate methods of transportation? (Train, for instance, to NYC?) Not sure if those examples exist or would translate to the circumstances in our district.

Story Idea #3

Student Mental Health – Guidance / Depression / Resources
Thought it couldn’t be done because of district “skittishness” regarding suicide (we had one last year)

  • Story Mission and Need
    Because of the suicide that affected the community last year, the district is more aware of the mental health needs of students. Many students admit to struggling with mental health; some see specialists outside of school, others not.
  • Why report it now?
    Because of the suicide that affected the community last year, the district is more aware of the mental health needs of students. Started a “trauma-informed teaching” team, though goals and implementation has been vague and seemingly unfocused.
  • Essential Questions
    What are common mental illnesses that affect students?
    What are the signs/symptoms?
    What services are available in-school for students?
    How does it affect day-to-day school/social/academics?
  • Sources to Use, Live and Non-Live (Expert, Authoritative, Knowledgeable, Bozo)
    Guidance counselor
    Research/statistics for number of students struggling with mental health: state and national averages?
    Free outside school resources?
    Students who have struggled with mental health diagnoses
  • Potential Issues with Sources and How to Solve Them?
    Protect students who may share too much personal information for
  • Medium/Media to best tell the story? Why this or these choices?
    Online article (we just have a website)
    Because the story will be more in depth, it may be better suited for written article.
    Hesitant to do video if students with mental illness share (potential for virality, privacy, using discretion with personal information)
  • Suggested visuals?
    Infographic with local resources and telephone numbers (created in Canva)
    Statistics for mental health local/national with am
    Students sifting through or reading pamphlets available at guidance
  • Range of Story Angles, supporting materials
    How to support a struggling friend
    Questions for a self-evaluation from a credible resource
    Practices for self-care
  • How will the various information pieces be presented visually, alternatively?
    Embedded infographics on webpage with article
  • From info-gathering to presentation, what legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions might you face, and what are some ways they might handled?
    Mental health is a sensitive topic because it is linked to self-harm, suicide, etc. (Imitation, copycat concerns). Follow guidelines provided by JEA
    What is the risk of interviewing students who may share overly-personal information about their struggles with mental health?
  • Other questions, points, approaches, or media?
    N/A

Story Idea #4

Live tweet of first home football game

  • Story Mission and Need
    Excitement is high for first home game of the year. Not broadcast online or televised, so live tweeting would provide updates for those not in attendance, at work, etc.
  • Why report it now?
    It matters while it’s happening for those who can’t be there!
  • Essential Questions
    What is the score at the end of each quarter?
    Who are the captains, and what is the outcome of the toss?
    What pivotal plays have an impact on the momentum of the game?
  • Sources to Use, Live and Non-Live (Expert, Authoritative, Knowledgeable, Bozo)
    In this case, it would be the expertise and observations of the reporter live tweeting.
    Can interview cheerleaders during breaks if coach permits.
    Interview graduates/former players in attendance
  • Potential Issues with Sources and How to Solve Them?
    I can’t think of any!
  • Medium/Media to best tell the story? Why this or these choices?
    Twitter: It is immediate, quick, and relatively easy to follow for updates on the account. Interface makes it easy to refer back to previous tweets to see game progression.
  • Suggested visuals?
    Fans with video and/or photo with cell phone to feature.
    Pictures or videos of game play (taken on cell phone): scoreboard, plays, cheer, fan reactions
  • Range of Story Angles, supporting materials
    N/A
  • How will the various information pieces be presented visually, alternatively?
    Using Twitter interface
  • From info-gathering to presentation, what legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions might you face, and what are some ways they might handled?
    I had it happen once that reporter video at a game featured footage of students vaping in the stand, a violation of school policy. I don’t really know how to deal with it other than we didn’t feature it in the final edited video. Or profanity from excited fans in video.
  • Other questions, points, approaches, or media?
    N/A
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