Mobile technology in the future of scholastic journalism

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First the news industry went digital. Now it goes mobile. As technologies develop, people find new ways to gather, produce, distribute and consume news and information.

These changes require a new mindset about how to approach journalism. This article aggregates tips from top mobile industry producers, including The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Hearst Magazines, about the practical steps a news organization can take to become “mobile first.”

As the industry changes, it begs the question about how mobile journalism fits into scholastic publications. So many are still finding solid ground with digital and social media. However, as teens are prolific smart phone users, mobile could open new paths to reaching audiences.

However, what was most telling about this story was a quote at the end from David Ho, editor of mobile, tablets and emerging technology at The Wall Street Journal. He pointed out that mobile is just the beginning. Information technologies will continue to evolve—watches, glasses, and other wearable computers. Journalists of future years will continually need to learn new skills to adapt to these technologies. As such, journalism educators will continue to refine their craft to be able to educate students effectively for these changing environments.

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Harness the power of editorial writing

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This is the second year I’ve judged editorials for a state scholastic press association contest. I was impressed with the improvement from last year’s entries. The topics were better overall, and the writers’ use of logic and research improved as well. I’d like to think all of those comments and suggestions I made last year weren’t in vain.

However, some problems still persisted. I found it discouraging to see students wasting such a valuable opportunity to speak decisively about important matters to the student body and wider community.

Students love to write opinion. Some think they can throw away the rules of solid journalism by simply inserting the phrase “I think” (or in the case of a staff editorial, “we think”) before stating their viewpoint, which they believe is “true” just because that’s the way they feel.

Part of it may stem from the proliferation of opinions floating through society. People’s ability to share their thoughts about any range of topics has profoundly expanded because of free and accessible online tools that enable average people to offer their take in any number of conversations.

This preponderance of opportunities is the perfect reminder about why advisers need to teach opinion writing as part of any journalism or publication class. Anyone can say anything, but a solid piece of journalistic opinion writing requires research, facts and logic to ground its arguments. Below are some reminders about editorial writing I’ve compiled from my observations as a contest judge.

What are editorials? Editorials represent the consensus viewpoint of the publication’s editorial board, usually composed of top editors and staff leaders. The group’s opinion represents the official view of the publication about a given issue. Thus, editorials use “we,” never “I,” and they never include a byline. They can serve multiple purposes: to commend, criticize, explain or persuade. Editorials often stem from a news or feature story the staff covers elsewhere in the publication.

Borrowing from an article in C:JET by Don Bott, an adviser from California, editorials must contain three C’s: controversy (open to multiple reasonable interpretations and stances), context (relevance to the school and the audience) and confinement (narrowly drawn to focus on a specific point or stand within a larger problem or concern). Topics like “gun control” and “school violence” are too broad. However, if one’s own school board is considering a plan to provide teachers with guns in the classroom, that would be a perfect topic.

I’ve noticed when judging that even controversial topics don’t work if they’re missing one of the other C’s mentioned above. They simply turn into broad persuasive essays that don’t resonate with the students because they lack context.

Most of all, good editorials avoid triteness and clichés. Telling the audience to overcome fears, to make their school year productive, or to avoid making excuses are worthy topics for a piece of commentary, an editor’s note or a column. They’re not suited for an editorial.

Editorials spark action. They encourage change. They take a stand. No riding the fence. The staff needs to pick a side and describe why it’s the best course of action. Of course, to do this, the editorial board needs to do its research. If the staff feels a school policy isn’t working, offer an alternative. Editorials need to offer logical, solid evidence for their stance.

How are editorials structured? Begin by stating the problem, offer the staff’s opinion about a specific course of action (keep the policy, change the curriculum, etc.) and then present evidence about why that’s the best course. All the while, offer rebuttals to the opposing side’s arguments. End by summing up the staff’s opinion and presenting logical solutions. Others can and will disagree with the staff’s viewpoint. That’s OK. The purpose of the opinion page is to inspire discussion and debate. The staff is merely using its voice to advocate and to throw ideas into the mix.

These are some additional resources about writing editorials:

Tips about the writing structure of editorials

More about writing structure and purpose of editorials

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials (for inspiration)