JEA guidelines for social media

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The statement created by JEA about guidelines to consider for the use of online and social media raises excellent points. As I’ve stated before (and many others have noted), new technology usually just creates new manifestations of old problems. Improperly using these technologies can cause harm—to the public, to the journalist, to the publication’s credibility. Figuring out the proper way to use them is essential.

The biggest initial hurdle is teaching students the difference between their personal and professional use of social media. This list lays out in concrete terms the potential problems and could serve as an excellent tool to start a discussion. Discussing these issues is the most important part. Students need to consider the pitfalls before they become problems. Of course, this is no different from other ethical issues. While every misstep is a learning experience, prevention is always better than seeking forgiveness for egregious mistakes.

The need for training (Part 2)

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This post continues last week’s discussion about continual training as part of a journalism classroom. These are a few tips for teachers to keep in mind as they work to craft activities and other exercises to help students sharpen their skills.

It’s a necessity. Skills need to be honed over time if students will mature in their ability to create meaningful work. Students don’t just pick it up as they go. Establishing a mindset that this is important will force it onto an already overworked adviser’s agenda.

Meet the students’ needs. Every class is different. Every group of students needs to improve specific things. Decipher what these things are. There are lots of great resources, especially from the JEA bookstore. However, advisers need to pick and choose what resources to use to meet their specific objectives.

Set aside time for it. Even during the busiest times, find a few minutes (literally 5 minutes or so) to review key concepts. Keep it practical, especially when time is short. Show the class a few page designs or well-composed photos. Ask them what works or what doesn’t. Remind them of basic rules for effective lead writing. Lots of possibilities exist.

Set goals. Everyone needs a sense of direction. Ask students to set goals for each publication cycle. It should be something specific (i.e. to write a more effective lead that will impact the reader or to use better dominant imagery on a page). After that issue is complete, students should evaluate themselves before either refining or setting a new goal. This exercise complements any training exercises done during class. It gives them more ownership of their progress. It also provides the adviser with ideas for lessons and activities based upon what the students feel they need to learn.

Bolster their strengths. When students choose the take on weightier stories, they quickly figure out that the “devil is in the details.” There are so many facts to verify, so many holes to plug and so many questions to ask. These are the times when everyone can benefit from walking through the process with the student(s) in question. Use one student’s experience to illuminate a problem that all staff members will eventually face.

Let students share. Students will learn best from each other. Allow them to share their experiences.  The ace reporter in the class can share how he managed to get such great quotes from the school board president. Ask the staff artist to define how she conceptualizes an illustration to perfectly fit a story. Professional newsrooms have done this for years.

Establish a rough plan, but be willing to deviate. For each issue, create a list of things you’d like to discuss in class, both the simple and the more involved. Find examples of what you want to demonstrate. Change the plan as students progress through their assignments.

See the bigger picture. How does the First Amendment affect student journalists? What ethical obligations do they have to their audience? How can the publication staff cover things like school funding? Take time to teach about these types of issues. They are an essential part of a successful journalism program.

Realize that it’s never easy. No simple formula exists for how to do this correctly. Every staff and situation is unique. However, committing yourself to a high level of training is an indispensable part of a quality program. Just take some time to breathe and refocus every once in a while.

The need for training (Part 1)

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We all do journalism every day of our lives. We both seek out information and also relay information to others. It can be as simple as telling someone else the score of last night’s football game.

However, despite our familiarity with providing and receiving information, students don’t show up in a journalism class with the refined set of skills they need to produce a publication, broadcast or website. They often feel lost about how to go about finding sources, forming questions and writing the story. Most don’t know how to execute a well-conceived design or how to take engaging photos. And certainly most don’t comprehend the broader context to understand their First Amendment rights as well as their ethical obligations to their audience.

Training is an essential part of the process for students to realize their fullest potential and to find the most effective ways to serve their audiences.

Learning is a constant and on-going process. Students don’t automatically “get it” just because they sat through a lecture about the correct usage of quotes and then completed a worksheet for practice. Skills need honed constantly. Advisers need to add nuance as students get more opportunities to practice what they are learning.

However, a few factors complicate the picture.

First, the size and nature of programs vary greatly. Some only have a production course. Others have an introductory course as a prerequisite for work on the publication. Others only offer extracurricular media. Some schools that offer that option still have a for-credit introductory course, while others don’t. And other possibilities exist as well.

Add into this mix the varying ways students can (or can’t) receive credit for their work in journalism and other student media, and the exact focus of training gets even murkier. In some schools, guidance counselors simply stick kids into the class to fill time in their schedules. In other places, any involvement in journalism or student media is carefully controlled through applications or audition. The skill levels and motivational levels will vary.

Second, time is always of the essence in a publication classroom. Yet, I’ve found that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Give the kids two weeks to write their stories, and most won’t be done until that deadline. Some of the time will be spent working, while some of it will be squandered by doing other homework or roaming the halls. There is time to help students hone their skills. Advisers just need to make the best use of the time.

Like so many other aspects of journalism, this can never be viewed as a luxury. Students require ongoing development in order to improve. Students need to be given the direction in order to push themselves to achieve something they haven’t before.

Part 2 of this post will explore more specifics about how best to implement specific training programs as well as more points to consider for doing it effectively.

Your mission: tell a story

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Journalism is about telling stories. The exact methods (straight news, personality profile, commentary, etc.) and the media (print, photos, video, etc.) might vary, but ultimately the goal is the same—to enhance the reader’s understanding through the use of vivid detail and engaging information.

It’s about telling an actual story—one that actually includes real people (yes, this means getting up from behind the computer screen and actually talking to others). It’s about organizing information in such a way that leaves the reader with a sense of completeness.

The sources are the key. When judging contests as well as when looking for examples to use in class, it’s all too easy to find stories that fell short. So many good topics, whether about texting while driving or the effect of immigration on a community, quickly turn into nothing more than a compilation of random quotes, unanswered questions and missing information. All of which lacks coherence and flow.

Yes, a learning curve exists. The first story a student writes will never be his or her best (well, let’s hope so), so it’s important not to be too critical when evaluating others’ work, especially those you don’t know. However, a pattern emerges when without much effort it’s possible to find story after story that doesn’t make the grade in countless publications.

Reporting is difficult, no doubt. Especially when students tackle tougher topics, they learn about all the details they need to know—whether it’s about school budgets or body image issues. Conceptualizing the story essential. Students need to take time to think through their approach, their sources, and the potential problems they think they might encounter.

In the end, it’s about finding a story that encapsulates many of the diverse viewpoints and impacts that a given issue will have. The ways to do that are vast if the reporter devotes the right amount of time and attention to both gathering information and then writing the story.