Last week, I attended the seventh annual Ohio Scholastic Media Association state convention, which was held at Kent State’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication. I helped to run OSMA when I worked for the Center for Scholastic Journalism during my time in graduate school. As much as I enjoyed planning those conventions, it was kind of nice devoting my energy to presenting sessions for a change instead of helping to “run the show.”

My role as presenter offered me the chance to work more closely with the student attendees. I met so many bright and eager young journalists who are passionate about elevating the quality of student media at their schools. Below is a summary of the three sessions I presented.

So you think that’s right?
Based on ideas from Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book Blur, this session explored ways for journalists to assess information’s credibility in the digital age. In an earlier post, I discussed the book’s relevance to the journalism classroom.

  • Journalists are no longer the only gatekeepers of what the public finds out.
  • Because of online tools and social media, the public plays an integral part in the news cycle.
  • As a seemingly endless array of information exists, both citizens and journalists need to develop a “skeptical way of knowing” to help themselves wade through it all.
  • Not all information is credible, so it can’t be taken at face value.
  • Journalists will distinguish themselves from all the noise by their commitment to providing quality information.

Think like a designer
The premise of this session sprouted from years of work with students in a production lab. Design is about more than learning the necessary software programs. Good design stems from a mindset that keeps the reader as the primary focus.

  • All design is about communication.
  • Every design decision must be purposeful.
  • Even the smallest details matter (space between elements, the weight of lines, etc.).
  • Design is never about “showing off” all the cool things you can do with the software. If a technique doesn’t enhance the storytelling on the page, don’t do it.
  • Design needs to be “coached,” just like story copy. The message on the page/spread needs to be consistent and unified.

Everyone needs a gatekeeper
Editors are an essential part of every publication. Yet their jobs are more complex today because of an influx of information. This session explored the changing roles of editors and the basic foundational skills they need. As with any discussion of editing, I used numerous humor-filled examples of things that slipped past the watchful eyes of the gatekeepers.

  • As more voices enter the fray, editors are needed more than ever to maintain a publication’s credibility.
  • Correcting basic grammar, spelling and punctuation errors is only the beginning.
  • Catching legal and ethical red flags is a major part of the editor’s job.
  • Editors should pay close attention to how stories are structured to ensure they communicate the intended message.
  • The big question to consider is whether readers understand the story’s intended message.
  • Pay close attention to headlines and other display copy. Mistakes there are magnified.

In addition to a wide-range of sessions, students also participated in on-site contests, received awards and feedback from an advanced-entry contest, and listened to a keynote address from Mizell Stewart III, the vice president/content of the newspaper division at the E. W. Scripps Co., about finding their path in life.