In 2014, SPJ’s Journalism Education Committee conducted research into the state of high school journalism, and we uncovered several intriguing issues. Many programs are thriving, but others were troubling. Some lack support from local journalists and/or administrations, and nearly a third of all administrators conduct prior review of all publications.
But nestled in the middle was something most folks discussing the report have apparently overlooked: What is being taught?
Rather than the traditional newspaper format, 92 percent of the responding high school journalism teachers said they are teaching design software; 89.3 percent said they are teaching students how to shoot photos; 89.3 percent said they are teaching photo design software; and 70.3 percent said they are teaching social media.
Couple these with the fact that journalism teaches critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication, and that is a pretty solid educational package that should have journalists very happy for the future of the profession.
Exactly how important is education in design software? During the 2015 High School Journalism Workshop at the University of Idaho, every time someone began to show a design element, everyone stopped to see what it was and how it could be used. Design, said workshop teacher William Love of Sandpoint High School in Idaho, is the fastest growing and most desired aspect of high school journalism classes.
Design goes beyond how the page looks, he said; it becomes part of the message. It is how people read and feel about what is being said. Love said that people copying established designs for their websites or papers are behind the times; their message can get lost because the format is staid. By exploring new formats and new ways of presenting information, it better reaches the millennial generation as an audience and encourages them to read news.
Most of the students at the workshop whose school has a newspaper (three schools represented did not have a paper) said they need design to catch attention. Teachers attending said quality design also helps to capture online attention, and thoughtful ways of using social media (especially with good photos) can drive readers back to the paper.
While all of this is great for high schools, it is also important for college and university media as well as professional media outlets. With students learning more about design and photo editing/layout in high school, it can mean even better-prepared professionals in the future — as long as post-secondary education keeps up and continues to encourage exploration of these areas. Several universities — especially Ball State University —now offer degrees in news design along with traditional news formats.
As Love said: It all enhances how people read and interpret the news, which translates into ways to keep people engaged with the news.
Also being taught is how to shoot video (37.9 percent); use of video editing equipment (37.5 percent); and how to create audio (21.7 percent). Write-in answers by the teachers included writing, accounting and use of WordPress. Again, these are all areas that will help young journalists easily transition from their high school programs through college and into the profession.
For SPJ members who have not been to a high school journalism class since their first brush with the profession, here is the invitation. Contact local teachers, ask about talking to the classes or the opportunity to visit. The survey showed 56 percent of all teachers said they receive no support from local professionals, and 53 percent said they receive no support from colleges and universities.
If high school journalism classes are where you developed the passion for the profession, return the favor: Someone inspired you; it is your turn to inspire a 16-year-old reporter. It may take several requests of the same teacher (because they are all swamped), but keep trying. Professional or educator, the fact that you show up means you are interested in the future of the business.
Visiting a class, even once, means students can see that this is a profession worth entering. They can see and hear about getting paid for writing, covering history as it happens, being a part of the civic engagement process. Isn’t that what made most of us say “Yes!” to journalism in the first place?