Monday, October 21, 2013

Student journalism thriving in CMS

I loved seeing a swarm of eager high school journalists at Friday's Strategic Plan 2018 event at the Booth Playhouse.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ensures that student reporters get to cover big district events,  and the numbers seem to be growing.  I've recently spoken with students and advisers starting new publications at South Meck and Mallard Creek High,  and even at South Charlotte Middle School. About a dozen high schools had journalists there. (Read a CMS feature on one of South Meck's student reporters, Clarissa Brooks, here.)

The students asked good questions about teacher pay,  crowded classrooms and how standardized testing meshes with the creative approach Superintendent Heath Morrison pushed in his speech.  That last one got one of the best answers I've heard Morrison give.

"I'm not anti-test.  I am for a more limited number of tests,  high-quality tests that measure 21st century stuff,"  Morrison said.  He gave an example:  Old-style testing might ask students to list the first 10 presidents,  something any of them could quickly look up online.  A better question,  he said,  would be asking students to write about important decisions the early presidents made that shape life today.

Coming to these events exposes teens to one of the most exciting aspects of journalism:  The chance to be in the thick of current events and ask questions of people who shape our lives.  Even before Morrison's news conference,  they made connections among the people gathered for the event,  such as  Dorothy Counts Scoggins,  who made history as a school integration pioneer.

South Meck's Alton Peques interviews Scoggins

Journalism certainly needs the fresh ideas and new blood.  But I'm sensing one disconnect:  At a time when communication is increasingly reliant on multimedia,  school journalism tends to be decidedly retro.  Some schools put out print newspapers that take weeks to produce.  Many have online editions,  but few seem able to do real-time reporting,  create and post videos and otherwise develop the skills that would help them get jobs in the field.  Don't get me wrong;  good writing is always going to be vital.  But I marvel to think what these young folks could do with even the tools I have at the Observer.  (Morrison's presentation included a great two-minute example of using video to communicate the point about open-ended vs. fixed-answer questioning.)

School newspaper advisers are doing the best they can with the skills and resources they've got.  But I'm wondering if there's not some way to match up the professionals out there who do multimedia work with the students who could put the technology to such great use  (and make great employees a few years down the road).  I'm trying to put bugs in a few ears.  Meanwhile,  if you're a school journalist or a professional,  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Ann, you are absolutely dead on here. I was slated to do the yearbook at a school this year, before leaving for other opportunities outside teaching. There was no newspaper at my CMS school nor was there a broadcast journalism course. My goals over two years were to restart the newspaper (online, not in print), add a multimedia component to the yearbook and start a broadcast journalism course. At that point, I would have merged the staffs so they were producing stories for all three media. It will take a lot of training. There are excellent (and free) opportunities such as ASNE summer programs to help teachers learn the skills they need. There are excellent student journalism conventions that teachers can take students to (at least three good ones a year). Of course, CMS would need to provide substitute coverage for teachers to do that.

Steve Johnston said...

Encourage them, Ann. But no one -- teachers, students or parents -- should be conned into believing that such ventures take only "free" time. Is an hour per minute of video about what it takes? And can any curriculum in the Common Core compete with the adrenaline rush of dealing with the immediacy of journalism? These aren't reasons for holding off -- just issues to be built around.

Anonymous said...

The key phrase 10:31 is "before leaving for other opportunities outside teaching. Thanks for staying as long as you did and recognizing what could be done if personnel could be retained.

Anonymous said...

Steve, nothing's free, and I'd be the last person to encourage that notion! But increasingly, there are basic video options that don't take as much time and skill as a professionally produced clip. For instance, I saw a story and still photo on the South Meck e-paper about the drum line. With an iPhone and my level of skill, you could do a short video clip that would add a lot to that. (Assuming the setup is available, which I think is one of the big challenges for schools.)

I agree there are plenty of issues. For one thing, the nature of real-time reporting clashes with the "play it safe and control the message" mindset that can prevail in administration. But an aging reporter can dream ...

This makes me think: Remember the alternative newspapers that used to get sneaked around in the halls back in our day? I wonder if there are electronic versions of those now?