The Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University recently produced its 2011 Scholastic Journalism Census. More than 1,000 public high schools from every state and Washington, D.C., responded to the survey. (Read the full survey report).
Four primary conclusions emerged:
• There is still a strong media presence in America’s public schools.
• Poor and minority students have the least amount of access to student media programs.
• Yearbooks, not newspapers, are the most common student publication.
• Student media’s online presence is lagging.
When drilling down further into the data regarding online media, the survey shows only 33 percent of schools have some form of online presence. Barely a quarter (27 percent) of student newspapers have an online component, while 8 percent of student newspapers publish exclusively online. The Center for Scholastic Journalism concluded that many high school media programs “are neither exposing students to the media landscape they will confront once they graduate from high school nor teaching students the skills they need to succeed in a multimedia world.”
Creating and using digital media is one area in which the Texas Association of Journalism Educators focuses its efforts. The association promotes mentoring, provides curriculum support and conducts journalism training sessions for media teachers in the state. Laura Smith, one of the organization’s regional representatives, teaches journalism classes at Canyon High School in Canyon, Texas. She started an online publication several years ago to complement the school’s printed edition.
“Utilizing the online paper, even to the limited degree that we have, teaches the students how to report news immediately and effectively,” she said. “It also introduces them to the technology and skills they will need to use in the workplace, as many of my students who go into journalism will be working online and utilizing social media as they do so.”
Mikyela Tedder teaches about 90 media students at Lindale High School in Lindale, Texas. She said her philosophy is to give students the skills they need to leave her classroom and go straight to work, whether it’s a part-time job in college, an internship or a job right out of high school.
“Moving to digital is important because that’s where a lot of people get their news today,” she said. “We do a small bit with an online paper and are trying to incorporate QR codes in the yearbook.” Tedder also invites guest speakers to talk about new and emerging media with her students.
For Cindy Berry, president-elect of the Texas Association of Journalism Educators and faculty member at Decatur High School in Decatur, Texas, starting an online publication was an intimidating prospect.
“Five years ago I wished I’d just be finished and retire before we went online,” she said. “Now I love it.”
Berry said her student staff creates, maintains and designs the website themselves, and that has allowed for a different kind of journalistic experience.
“It’s incredible the opportunities [this] opened up for those techie type students, who may not be the best journalists, but now can have an integral role as webmaster, or videographer, or our newly created position of social media coordinator,” she said.
Despite the necessary moves to incorporate digital media into the high school media landscape, there are still some challenges to overcome.
“We do face some limits in utilizing video technology because of websites that are blocked at school or are not available for our use,” Smith said. She also said it is sometimes difficult finding enough students to handle what is essentially another publication.
Another potential problem comes when the focus is on the technology and not on the nuts and bolts of producing journalism.
“High school journalists must know the digital tools of the trade because we live in a digital age,” said Mary Beth Lee, a media teacher at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. “That said, they still need to know how to listen, focus, research, interview and write. Digital tools are supplements. They don’t replace the basic foundations of journalism.”
Sometimes it can be the school’s very own administration that’s the biggest obstacle to having a successful student publication that incorporates digital media. Conversely, Smith said successful student media programs often have support from their administrators.
“Canyon [Independent School District] supports their journalism programs, and my principal is an active partner in our own program,” she said. “Having an excellent principal seems key to developing a strong journalism program.”
Both Lee and Tedder also said high school journalism is thriving in Texas because of its strong state journalism teacher organizations. And that support, Lee said, reverberates beyond the classroom.
“My students often tell me their experiences in yearbook and newspaper were the most important of their high school years and still contribute to their success today,” she said.