Student Well-Being Opinion

Why Scholastic Journalism Matters

By Starr Sackstein — February 25, 2015 5 min read
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Guest post by Evelyn Lauer

Evelyn Lauer is a certified journalism educator and the publications chair of the Journalism Education Association. She teaches English and journalism courses at Niles West HS in Skokie, Illinois and advises the student-run publication, Niles West News.

I spent the majority of my senior year of high school holed up in a long rectangular room on the fifth floor of my school. It had one window, a few worktables, a wall covered in bulletin boards, a tiny blue couch that everyone fought over, and one computer where I learned to lay out pages on PageMaker.

It was 1993, and these were the headquarters for Scope, our monthly school newspaper. I was a co-editor-in-chief, responsible for managing a staff of 15, writing an editorial a month, designing pages, and editing content.

Now, as a journalism teacher and adviser, I look back on these cramped digs and wonder how we managed to produce anything. Journalism has changed. The students in the journalism programs at my school—and in programs throughout the country—produce a daily news website, a biweekly news show, and a yearbook. My students are tweeting breaking news, posting links to Facebook, and snapping shots during a basketball game
that are immediately shared on Instagram.

So much has changed (continues to change) in journalism, but one thing hasn’t: the benefits of studying it.

This week (Feb. 22-28), high schools and middle schools throughout the nation are participating Scholastic Journalism Week to showcase these benefits and celebrate what scholastic journalism represents: pedagogy, advocacy, innovation, community and excellence, according to President of the Journalism Education association Mark Newton.

“Typically, journalists work behind the scenes chronicling the stories of their communities,” Newton said. “Scholastic Journalism Week is wonderful opportunity to celebrate what they do, how they do and why they do it. I love the opportunity to take a breath and honor the incredible efforts of our members, their programs and their students.

What journalism teachers and student media advisers and their students do matters, and SJW affords us the chance to recognize, celebrate and honor that.”

The theme of this year’s SJW is “Our Staff At Work.” SJW co-chair Adam Dawkins said. JEA wanted to give student media a reason to share what goes on behind the scenes.

“As journalists, the students know transparency is a key principle in reporting and writing. It’s also important to be transparent about celebrating successes and everyday victories in the newsroom,” Dawkins said. “These students work hard and they are passionate about the questions ask, the innovative ideas they push, and the products they create. For them, it’s not about the grade. Anytime teachers and students can share what they are doing, especially when that means putting hardworking and engaged students in the spotlight, that’s great for scholastic journalism and great for education.”

Established in 1991, SJW flips scholastic journalism on its head; in other words, we turn the cameras on ourselves. We spread the word: What we do matters.

Just ask our former students.

“Without high school journalism I would be nowhere,” said Michael Geheren, a media and journalism major at the University of South Dakota. “It gave me an excellent scholarship and a strong foundation. I went into my college with stronger skills than my fellow students. It also taught me excellent life skills, from workplace politics to strong leadership.”

Geheren, who attended Huntley High School in Huntley, Illinois, said taking journalism classes was the best decision of his life. “Those classes and the newspaper helped me find my true passion,” he said. “Without high school journalism or my advisor, Mr. Brown, I probably would be lost.”

Students who are not majoring in journalism laud the benefits of working for their high school publications as well.

One of my former students, Ivana Kosir, who attends the University of Michigan as a sophomore studying industrial and operations engineering, said she can root almost every important life skill back to her time working for the online news website at our school, Niles West News.

Kosir said, of course, she learned how to write professionally, however, the most beneficial skills that she learned in the newsroom were her interpersonal skills that ultimately led to better character development.

“Conducting interviews, managing a large staff, and meeting my own deadlines forced me to become a more responsible, reliable, and confident person,” she said. “These are not just journalism skills; these are life skills that can be applied to any part of my life, and I’m grateful to have practiced and developed them at the NWN.”

In my own education, I can attribute much of my success in life to my high school journalism teacher. Mrs. Baron taught me how to meet deadlines, how to write succinctly and persuasively, how to lead a team, and - more specifically—how to use the word “clad” in a sentence.

Despite what you may have heard, journalism is still relevant. In fact, with the advent of the Common Core Standards, it’s more relevant than ever before.

JEA Vice President Sarah Nichols explains."The Common Core standards are embedded in every aspect of scholastic media,” she said. “Students serve as objective, skilled interviewers and active listeners. They research, reflect and revise constantly. In their roles as media producers, students implement the writing process to plan, produce, revise and edit work—all for an authentic audience, using a variety of platforms, operating within a budget and on deadline. The emphasis on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking as students find new ways to deliver meaningful content develops skills that make journalism students the best prepared for any college or career opportunity.”

Even though journalism prepares students for the future, even though journalism embodies the essence of the Common Core, scholastic journalism is still being attacked.

Programs are being cut. School boards and administrators are censoring student work, undermining their first-amendment rights.

Students are left dealing with the brunt of the aftermath as journalism teachers and advisers are being removed or repositioned.

It is salient that as educators we recognize the value of scholastic journalism programs in our schools. Help us fight for them. Help us recognize them. And - if so needed -- help us reestablish them.

Because scholastic journalism matters.

To see the work of scholastic journalists throughout the country, please follow @sjw2015 and check out #sjw2015 on Twitter.

What has scholastic journalism taught you?

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.