Recently, I posed a question to students in my Introduction to Broadcast Journalism class: How were you exposed to journalism in high school? I looked around, and I was flabbergasted. Not one student provided any evidence he or she had ever even heard of “journalism” prior to taking mass communication courses at Francis Marion University. I also asked my students if their teachers in high school had ever encouraged them to read or watch news. Not one student raised a hand. No New York Times? No Washington Post?
Back in the late 1980s, I spent most of my evenings in front of the television set watching local news broadcasts out of Birmingham, Alabama. The news anchors and reporters became almost like part of the family. And, my family and I would discuss what was going on in the world.
That is not going on today. Young people are infatuated with watching the latest viral video that will mean nothing to them tomorrow, next week or a month from today. Young people are too worried about receiving likes and follows. We have a generation that is consumed with taking selfies rather than understanding the world around us. And, we have become a nation where it is easy to cast blame by quickly posting an opinion on a social media platform that is not backed up with facts.
While technology has allowed a quick exchange of ideas, it has also become our worst enemy. With no gatekeepers, our teenagers see so many different opinions that facts are lost. Journalism, which is supposed to put all of this information into perspective, is an afterthought. And, educators are failing these teenagers by not using journalism as a teaching tool.
Are there no high school newspapers anymore? Are there no assignments involving news? What are we teaching our students?
As if we need any more of a wake-up call, these young people must be exposed to the necessity of news at an early age. We must have journalists telling stories of their communities. We must have reporters who are willing to be watchdogs of our government leaders. We must have people who are willing to shed light on corruption. Above all else, we must have young people who recognize the importance of journalism to a democratic society.
Legendary newsman Bob Schieffer wrote about the crisis we currently face in his book “Overload: Finding Truth in Today’s Deluge of News.” The former host of CBS’ Face the Nation, Schieffer explains how the overabundance of information, without gatekeepers, has created a national security issue for our country.
“We need to find some entity to do what we’ve come to expect from local newspapers in this country, or we’re going to have corruption at a level we’ve never seen in this country.” – Bob Schieffer
Teachers are the ones who can help. They are ones who are the independent voices in our children’s lives. They can show these teenagers how journalism works for the betterment of our country. We must return to the foundations of learning instead of relying on projects based only on technology. That approach helps no one. Consider where we are right now as a nation; we need to step back and focus on foundational approaches to writing properly while bringing effective civics education back into the classroom.
Now is the time for educators to step up. We need middle and high school English teachers to use journalism as a tool to perfect students’ writing skills. We need history teachers to explain why the First Amendment and the freedom of the press are paramount to our society. Allow students to use journalism to understand the world around them. Push students to uncover information through open records requests in their city.
In an article written by Amanda Litvinov and published by the National Education Association, civics education in schools is in peril. She writes in her article, “Forgotten Purpose: Civics Education in Public Schools,” how America’s founding fathers envisioned the nation’s youth’s education would include the skills about self-government.
“One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.” – Amanda Litvinov
I remember taking civics in eighth grade. I learned about self-government, the importance of voting and to debate issues of national importance. I am afraid our nation’s teachers are so bogged down with paperwork and preparing students for state and federally-mandated tests that little is being done to promote good writing and good journalism before students step foot in a college classroom.
We need leadership at the top. Superintendents and principals must recognize how students can become well-connected with their communities by allowing them to write about their respective neighborhoods. Teach students to write about facts. Teach students to become involved in informing their friends and family about their hometown. Even science teachers can help by providing students with technical information and teaching them to decipher that information into easy-to-understand language for their audiences. That approach teaches students to write well with teachers as their guide. Journalism needs to be introduced into all middle and high school curriculum.
On another note: Parents must be willing to understand the significance of journalism in our society. These parents must work toward helping our nation become less divisive. That is achieved through fact-based writing while remembering ethics. Writing is a way for young people to express themselves. Journalism helps students to understand history. Once teenagers recognize the positive impact of quality journalism, they will want to continue writing.
Journalism needs young people now more than ever – the earlier, the better.
This article was originally published on Sizing Up the South, the online publication of Region 3 of the Society of Professional Journalists.
David Baxley is Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University, and the president of SPJ South Carolina. Before entering academia in 2016, Baxley worked as an investigative producer at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, for two years.