Action Item: Make Better Journalists

Update:WOOT! In less than 12 hours, you guys, you did it! Two schools’ journalism work is now fully funded because of you! You guys are awesome.

Be sure to check the comments for a thank-you note from one of the teachers, and when we get info from Donors Choose we’ll post that up too!

In theEpic Conrad Black Thread last week, Buggy Q raiseda good question:

So what do we do about it? Seriously–is there anything we can do in terms of activism that would help turn this fucked up ship around? Because I’d really like to leave a better world for my nieces and nephews, and it seems to me that fixing *this* would do more to accomplish that than anything else.

Call me naive, but I’m willing to give it a go if somebody has an idea.

I have an idea.

There’s only one way you make newspapers better, the news better, journalism better, and that’s by making the people who do it better. And you do that by training them better, by educating them better, by teaching them from day one that their job is to tell the truth and let people make their own decisions, by teaching them there’s no question that can’t be asked, by teaching them the rewards of fearlessness every day from the moment they can put a pen to paper until the moment they put the pen down and die.

Nobody’s born a name-taking truth teller, the building blocks may be there but until those tendencies are nurtured by teachers and colleagues and that love is reinforced every day through concrete example of what can happen when you use the voice you possess, until then you’re not hooked. Once hooked into the idea that that’s what you want to be, though, and I say this from experience, once hooked you are what you are for life.

How, to extend Buggy’s metaphor, do we turn this ship around? How do we repair an entire industry seemingly bent on smashing itself on the rocks just out of spite? By making sure the next person who takes the wheel knows how to navigate the water. By recognizing that despite the protestations of the death of journalism for the last 20 years, journalism isn’t dying and it isn’t dead and tomorrow and the next day we’re gonna need people who wake up in the morning positively drooling to root out wrongs and demand they be made right.

To that end, let’s put our money where our pixels are. Let’s do something real to influence the future of journalism in this country. Let’s be where the rest of the media critics are not and, while they’re off flapping their gums about Google and talking about iPhones, make better journalists.

Starting withthis school:

“Newspapers everywhere are suffering, but journalism – the important act of informing, inspiring discussion, and keeping power in check – is far from dead. In fact, students everywhere are consuming more media than ever before.

The empowered student editors at this rural high school believe that LOCAL-LEVEL reporting and commentary is the key to journalism’s future. Readers crave information today. And while there are countless forums for national-level entertainment, news, sports, and the like, the community-level offerings of a high school paper are usually lackluster.

Our dedicated students have sought to change that. In less than a year, they’ve overhauled the student newspaper’s writing and reporting. In its effective writing and reporting, it is on-par with a college or even small town newspaper. However, we remain bound by our tax base, and there’s simply no money to get the type of photo equipment we need to be taken seriously by a media-inundated, instant-gratification generation. It’s hard to get the average reader to read an outstanding story on the girls’ basketball team when there is a wholly unimpressive photo to draw the reader into the story.

My students need a DSLR digital camera because this is the only type of camera that can capture photos rapidly – as you need to do for everything from a football game to a principal getting a pie in the face for charity. Without effective photojournalism, the hard work of our student editors will be ignored. But with the high-quality photos this equipment can provide, these students can receive the full benefit of writing for an engaged audience.

Andthis one:

“My urban high-school journalism class provides cutting-edge personal narratives on teenage pregnancy, coping with parent on drugs/in jail, sexual abuse and dealing with parent murdered…all the issues that students on my campus experience, yet administrators want to censor in the newspaper. Luckily, I still have my job! My students produce an eight-page student newspaper six times a year with a focus on writing personal narratives and journalistic style writing primarily on educational issues. Students readers have responded in amazing ways to students’ personal narrative, opening up to the writers and sharing their own struggles with sexual abuse, depression, a murdered family member,etc.

With the state education budget cuts, my annual journalism budget was reduced from $5,000 to ZERO! We have responded to this challenge by selling food and advising, plus have credit at the printer. With this proposal, we plan to produce 18-minute documentary-style broadcast journalism stories to be shown on campus TV program produced by video production class (and Pod cast on school website) and use media skills to complete a 30-minute documentary on boys’ baseball and girls’ softball seasons to sell to students/parents to continue funding school newspaper (since there are limitation on when we can sell food on campus; basically, one week every two months).

Donors Choose (hat tip:Tomato Nation) is a site that lets teachers propose projects for their classrooms; a surprising number involve student journalism. Let’s adopt these two projects, as a blog, and let’s make this happen. For less than $400 total, there’s a whole future of journalists taught by people who clearly value storytelling in order to make the world a better place.

I know the economy sucks; it’s the only reason the newspaper crisis conversation has been pushed to the forefront right now, and if you can’t give, I entirely understand. But if you can, and you care about the things I’ve been ranting about with regard to our screwed up media environment, help the people who will have to remake this industry learn how to do it right.

We can talk to the critics all we want about smarter criticism. If we want smarter journalists, this is how we get them. It’s the only way we can do things around here, the only way anything big ever gets done: One small project — a video setup, a digital camera — at a time.

Donatehere andhere.


20 thoughts on “Action Item: Make Better Journalists

  1. Thanks. What a great idea. I gave to 2 journalism projects. Go kids!
    Thanks for the pointer.

  2. Darn you A.! I can’t really afford this, but I donated to both projects. There aren’t many causes more important to our national future than nourishing the “free press”, and this is a great way to start doing that.

  3. A, in my period as an active music journalist, I was rarely without my 35mm SLR. Not only were the photos helpful in documenting the subject of my interview/preview, but they also helped me to recall characteristics, inflections, and other descriptive elements.
    Journalists only have once chance to be “in the moment.” But their ability to recall that moment is vastly improved by photographic documentation.

  4. Glad to see everyone getting behind this…very cool but that FDers always for sure.
    Is there any way for the students to know the donations were from a blog/blog readers so perhaps they don’t grow up ‘journalistically’ thinking that bloggers only want to steal food from their children’s mouths and post videos of kittens?

  5. As the teacher who posted one of those proposals on, I can’t thank you all enough for valuing both education and a strong media.
    Athenae, your essay was insightful and right on: Education is key. And as long as we live in a system where the wealthy fund their wealthy schools and the impoverished fund their poor schools, financial support is crucial to making sure that successful journalists-in-training are a diverse bunch, and not just the fortunate sons and daughters of money and influence.
    Thank you so much for your support.

  6. Dave, thank YOU for caring about student journalism. And thank you to everybody’s who’s donated so far. You guys rock.

  7. Athenae —
    All journalism is local. Even more so than politics. What we’ve lost is the local ownership, the local ties, the local sense. So thanks for finding these causes to help bring it back.
    Step the next: get the papers, radio stations, tv stations out of the hands of outfits like Clear Channel and Rupert Murdoch Inc. When all the top dogs see is a profit/loss statement, all they care about is that the profits are never enough to suit them.

  8. Yay! Thanks for the update, virgotex. Now I’m off to drum up more support for the second…

  9. Well, never mind. Both are now fully funded, and Bill and Melinda are ponying up their half.
    Sooooooo…what’s next, A?

  10. Buggy beat me to it. Went back to donate to the second and found out it was already funded too.

  11. Looks like some wonderful educators are out there.
    But now how do you make better newspaper owners? Rupert doesn’t seem to be the type that changes easy.

  12. Holy crap. I was in class half the day, I knew this was coming and I still got beaten to the donation jar.
    What’s next? We find another school.

  13. Grrr – I don’t get to kick in until Friday. I need guidance for where to send my sheckels on the 17th.
    You guys spoil everything.

  14. hint hint … searches for “journalism” on the site turn up LOTS of opportunities.

  15. How did all of you good people get together on the same web site?
    I’m the very grateful teacher whose project was funded above. There are loads of very worthy projects on related to journalism, but in case you are short on time, my students are working on a shoestring budget to create their school newspaper AND a journalistic-quality yearbook. We’re still hoping other proposals will be fulfilled:
    Thanks to all for your unabashed generosity & goodness…

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