Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Morals of Journalism

When considering our choices as purveyors (and now civic participants) in the media, it's hard to be too careful about believing what we read/see and why. It would be fantastic if I could be able to switch on my TV or check my news feed and just take for granted that everything on there was unquestionably accurate and (more importantly) relevant.

Journalism isn't just about being that romantic ideal of distributing the "facts" of the situation. Too often, I have felt that the media has started to get so soft and pander so much to mainstream popular culture (i.e. birth certificates, royal weddings) that a great deal about what is important and of grave concern to our everyday lives is lost in the wash of senseless journalism that seems to be getting more and more pervasive.

I don't mean to sound like one of those doddering old biddies who insists that things just aren't the way they used to be (because the way it used to be wasn't so awesome either!) but I think there needs to be a reckoning in the world of tabloid lust and popular bubblegum rhetoric.

A parent's job is to guide their offspring in the morals and values that allow them to function within the laws and social norms of society. Without this, William Golding offers a dire perspective on "kids gone wild" when there is a loss of formative guidance. In a way, we, as a society, are the parents of the media. We created it, and we have a responsibility to guide it. If we demand crap, that's what we'll get. If we explain to our offspring that we don't appreciate these distractions into irrelevant and sometimes damaging forays of journalistic nonsense, there might be a move toward more positive, helpful and moral journalistic practices.

However, if we--as parents--forget our own morals and values, how can we be good parents to the media? We have a responsibility to demand good journalistic practices, but first we have to know what they actually are.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Can't the Students Learn to Blog?

There are many reasons to be skeptical of electronic media...actually, any media these days. The question is asked over and over: how do we know what you're saying/writing/posting is true? The definition of the word "true" is even called into question...

For our students, knowing how to answer these questions is getting more and more difficult. With lines of legitimacy becoming blurred with every new source of information, navigating the media is increasingly frustrating.

Teaching students first and foremost to ask questions is a good line of defense. It's classic, and won't be outdated with the next upgrade. Having the sense to check into any source of information will help students understand how we are capable of manipulating as well as educating each other and not be taken advantage of when sources choose to go the way of the former.

The next step is to teach students the benefit of sharing information that is properly researched, challenges inaccuracy, and is in the best interest (in terms of educating) of the general public.

Nobody likes to be taken for a ride. If students understand and appreciate the shame of feeling duped by a faulty source, it might drive home the importance of making sure we don't perpetuate bad habits by being irresponsible journalists ourselves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Media Literacy: The Wave of the Future!

I love cheesy '80s references as much as the next person, but throwbacks remind us sometimes about how we have grown, how our perceptions have changed, and how we should be careful to learn from rather than forget from where we've come.

As a proponent of 21st Century Skills (regardless of how I feel about cliche'd scholastic movements), I can't help but think the only thing that will save humanity from falling into a deep abyss of ignorance is for ALL of us (yes...not just as a nation but as a WORLD) to start appreciating the importance of media literacy in an age where basic literacy is still a struggle.

There are obvious reasons for why new movements in citizen journalism and scholastic media are more relevant than ever, and the main ones involve the growing number of pseudo-news outlets, independent journalists and the general perception that if it's "out there" that it must be true. A media ignorant individual is easy prey for someone or some group wishing to instill feelings of fear, bigotry, and a variety of other unsavory qualities that propaganda is most notably infamous for.

The solution? I propose the addition of media literacy programming in schools that cross all areas of the curriculum including non-humanities areas such as math and science (it's not always just "words"...numbers lie, too!). If we are to be a productive democracy, and if our friends in emerging democracies are to succeed, getting a firm grasp of what is truly going on around us is crucial. Deception is how people are controlled.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ethicks and Under-standing

Media ethics and media literacy are two of the most difficult subjects to capture in any venue. First off, there are a plethora of interpretations of the meanings of both, and none of them are right or wrong--entirely.

"Ethics" implies morality. When combined with the ambiguousness of "media," there is a thickness that pervades. The issue that seems to be the thickest of all is that of how new media and social media is affecting the relay of information. There is no sense of privacy anymore for anyone. Some feel threatened by this, and others liberated. When it comes down to it, if the result negatively affects *you* it's going to be unpleasant...and criticized. Ethics are relative, and therefore controversial. If we are in search of the truth as it pertains to the world and people around us, then why should we be ashamed of our own?

This leads us to the issue of "media literacy"--another monster of a term that has an incredible reach in terms of how it could be construed. In a very generic sense, you could say media literacy is being able to "understand" media--the content, reason, motive, etc. If we use media "understanding" as a definition for literacy, I would argue that there is no such thing. We are constantly in a state of "under"-standing; always situated somewhere below, not quite at full height..and not always "standing" up to see what is going on from other angles.

In both of these cases, I'm not entirely sure there is a way for media ethics or media literacy to have definable ideals. There's no way to honestly quantify their virtuousness or efficacy. Perhaps they are both processes by which we are constantly moving toward a better sense of ourselves and the world around us, but I question our definitions of morality and literacy altogether.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Model Blogger

I would not suggest that I fit the role of the title of this entry...this is really more of a reflection of issues in the media--a commentary of sorts--rather than being particularly informative or attempting to be influential. I suppose it could be considered a failure on my part that someone who promotes the need for media literacy and participation would not even attempt to make a good example of a well-educated, informed (and informative) community blogger.

On the other hand, I've discovered that blogs (and other social networking tools where posting responses is common) are an interesting way to throw thoughts, comments, ideas and even concerns out to the universe with the intention of creating some sort of dialogue--albeit informal. I have treasured some of the more impassioned discussions that have branched out over issues involving politics, religion, policy, and other issues--even innocuous ones about the weather or where to find the best food in cities I'm visiting.

There's something about the way these cyber connections work that makes me feel like there isn't so much distance between me and the rest of the world. Despite occasional inflammatory remarks from those who choose not to appreciate the sensitivity of online conversation, I think when people are willing to open themselves up to challenging ideas in online discussions that the end result can be very enriching and insightful.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Investigating Investigation

There used to be this thing called privacy.

I'm still on the fence about this, but I can say with some certainty (especially when it comes to celebrities) sometimes ignorance *IS* bliss.

Investigative journalism and muckraking--in its purest form--seems to be founded in the belief that there is truth out there that the masses need to know. Without this knowledge, the impartial picture will obscure the minds of people everywhere into making decisions or having ideas without decent foundations.

Knowing that Charlie Sheen is a raging, drug-abusing idiot is not my idea of something meriting that sort of journalism--but it has become important to the American people. I assume that's because we've lowered our own standards of what is important as viewing the train-wrecks of our romanticized idols.

We've even gone so far now as to uncover the truths of celebrities and politicians of ancient past in order to...what? get a clearer understanding of our past in order to create a better future? Not so much. Mostly it seems we're at it again with the train wrecks.

I understand that the media needs to have exciting and juicy stories to interest and engage readers, watchers and listeners, but have we forgotten the purpose of investigative journalism altogether? Sometimes getting a little dirt on your hands for the sake of uncovering important information is good...but don't forget what happens to dirt when it gets all wet.

The masses need more than gossip and inconsequential exposes to help them be informed citizens. It would be great if we stopped lowering the importance of investigative reporting to something out of a tabloid and started looking at the issues that actually might have some significance and meaning--and let the celebrities have this lovely thing called privacy. Maybe then they wouldn't feel like they needed to do drugs all the time...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Justifying the Importance of Journalism Courses in Schools

What makes a successful student?

I would argue that the answer goes much further than intelligence, basic skill, connections and other traditionally beneficial advantages.

Regardless of studies that have shown this to be true, I think there is a validity in the common sense concept that students who learn and practice good media production are more apt to succeed in school, work and life.

Reason #1: Participating in student media is empowering. When you are given the chance to write or speak to a mass audience, there is a feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing you have contributed to something greater than yourself and for the specific purpose of educating or engaging the public. This is a step (and a big one) toward becoming influential and valuing one's own words as well as others'.

Reason #2: Understanding how the media works is empowering. Realizing that you have the ability to call information into question is a very important part of being a smart and discriminating consumer. Without this, you are more apt to believe anything you see or hear--especially if the information *seems* plausible. Being snowed is never a good feeling.

Reason #3: Being a leader is empowering. Whether as an editor or a contributor, leadership is a necessary skill to gathering important and meaningful news. Also, respect is often afforded those who aren't afraid to ask important questions.

Reason #4: Honing a craft is empowering. Becoming a better writer, speaker, artist, photographer, editor, etc. are all an essential part of being a valued member of the fourth estate. It also helps a little with the grades in other classes...

Reason #5: Student media expands horizons. Being a journalist or photographer helps you see the world differently and branch out in directions that you wouldn't necessarily otherwise.

The reasons for why scholastic journalism is a valuable (and arguably essential) practice are plentiful. I would challenge anyone to offer a reason it might not be.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scholastic Journalism Week

Happy SJW everyone! I'm very proud to say that I join so many other dedicated journalists, advisers and friends who all feel strongly about encouraging student media and care about maintaining high journalistic standards for the current and future news media.

When we think of the future of news production, it's exciting to think about all the changes that have been happening in the past several years that have led up to where we are now--and what it means for us in the years to follow. We are at a crossroads between the fourth and now "fifth" estates (consisting of a broader group of contributors). My idealism delights in the possibilities of an engaged community of writers and readers. My pessimism fears for a lack of training and regulation of accurate content. However, I can't help but think the changes that come with time offer us all a chance to reflect on how we plan to move toward progress rather than the alternative.

Regardless of how we feel about social networking sites in schools, I would like to throw out an argument (and please feel free to respond!): If sites like facebook and myspace are banned/barred/forbidden in schools, how will students learn appropriate ways to use these various communication tools appropriately, sensibly and as a mode for civic engagement? If something is made taboo, it only makes it more appealing. It's not facebook that's the problem, it's what people POST on facebook that causes controversy. Instead of focusing on suppressing students, why not consider ways of using facebook as a teaching tool on good internet etiquette? Perhaps if students understand internet safety, good manners and the value of choosing words carefully, we could eliminate much of the disagreement over whether or not facebook (and the like) should be allowed and even *gasp!* used in the classroom.

I say we stop fighting freedom of expression for students and start looking at more creative ways to engage students in meaningful online dialogue.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Since when did the first amendment apply to only people of a certain age?

One of the biggest beefs I have about school censorship is that it happens at all.

Is there a magic age that you suddenly have the right to be heard? Why are more children not outraged by this obvious exclusion from democracy?

It is my sincerest hope that schools will realize that they do more harm by trying to "protect" their students through censorship (whether it be a school-sponsored publication or otherwise) than they would by simply letting students speak out about issues that concern them.

Sheltering the young from the terrors of the real world is a thing of the past. Perhaps if we did more listening rather than squelching, we might learn something from those who live very much in the midst of the terrors.

Maybe if we all try to remember what we knew when we were younger (which is more than we know now, right?) :) we would have a better grasp of what we can do to work with--rather than against--our younger citizens.

Free speech for ALL.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

FOX tracks


I sincerely don't want to start a debate about which political party is "manipulating" the media. Personally, I find any news outlet (24/7, web, print or otherwise) that makes no attempts to apologize for a political agenda to be immoral and tremendously out of line with journalistic integrity. While this article (anonymously--but understandably so) criticizes a blatantly right-wing media franchise, this type of political sensationalism that blurs the line between news and entertainment is something I think many news channels could be called out on.

Nothing is sacred. And what is this showing our young journalists? That in the "real" world, commercial journalism is a catty and underhanded business. How do we win back journalism from this tailspin of competition and bias? How do we teach our students to see that regardless (or sometimes because) of our personal alliances and values that we need to fight to keep all voices as important contributions to the open forum?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


For several years, I worked as the newspaper adviser in a Catholic high school in the south. It was an amazingly unique experience because although I didn't have many of the same legal rights as the public schools, I was given the trust of the administration (at least for a while) to ensure the responsible journalistic tactics of my students--so long as they wrote nothing in conflict with Catholic teaching. This actually proved to be less difficult than one might expect considering that there isn't much that's in conflict with Catholic teaching. Another huge bonus: we could write about religion!

There is a list as long as your arm about what administrators cringe at when you talk about publishing an article about something (i.e. sex, drugs, suicide, etc.) but religion has got to be one of the biggest brain busters. Religious discussion in public school has led to all sorts of controversy, lawsuits, hurt feelings, threats, fear of certain phrases and pieces of clothing...you name it. And in my school, it was all virtually moot. Granted, the school went at everything from a Catholic angle, but it was unashamedly willing to inquire about beliefs outside of its own. The benefit the students had was that without having to worry about giving preference to one religion over another (Catholic was obviously going to win out) and despite having that angle, students produced some pretty thought-provoking material that rivaled many professional papers.

Perhaps one of our biggest fears in scholastic journalism is being TOO open--or simply trying so hard to be "fair and balanced" that you lose any sense of the depth of a story. Having an angle that doesn't have to justify its bias simply because it's a cultural given is not always a bad thing. In fact, I think it's kinda cool. Maybe we need more bias sometimes--as long as that bias isn't shrouded in some idea that there isn't a bias to begin with. Know thyself...and then try to figure out everyone else.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Tricky Truth

I used to think that honesty was a virtue. Sometimes I'm not always sure.

Honesty/truthfulness/genuineness/veracity whatever...is pretty subjective when it comes right down to it. In journalism, especially scholastic journalism, that subjectivity gets even more complicated.

Children are told from a very early age to always tell the truth. Coincidentally, we learn at a very early age how to lie. In fact, there's a phase that's pretty much expected in every human's life that involves the very act of trying to deceive for a variety of reasons (in my particular case...s...it might have had something to do with having a younger sibling who could take the fall) but it's still very much expected that a "good" person always tells the "truth."

Broken down:
truth = good
lying = bad

So what happens when the truth isn't a good thing? Not the very nature of truth, but the idea that the truth is something unnecessary to behold? Maybe we can't handle the truth?

This is a complicated question that many students grapple with every day. I won't even bore you with the trite explanations of white lies versus lying for the greater good or contrarily with the intent to deceive. I think that when we speak of truth in journalism, it's important to look at truth as the puzzle that it is. Each story is a piece of the puzzle--one is no more significant than the other--which comes together to form a picture (which can then be looked at from countless perspectives). Facts are facts. Truth is something else entirely. Students should be made aware of these differences so they are not limited to looking at only one piece of the truth, but many pieces together. Even then, there are choices that need to be made about the picture they want to show. This is where true journalistic integrity is learned.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prior review isn't my bag, baby.

While I certainly have appreciation and respect for the daily demands of principals and superintendents--and all the legal and political concerns that go with them--I am decidedly against creating more drama where drama is not due.

I am concerned about the issue of prior review (the idea that the administration should approve the content of a student publication/post/broadcast before it goes public). Now while I am unapologetically against the practice, I want to emphasize again my appreciation for the legal concerns of those who feel threatened by a free press among minors. While the subject has been up for debate before in the highest courts in the country, the argument of how these decisions can be considered constitutional is frustrating. This is not to say that I think students should be allowed to be libelous...they should simply be held to the same standards that all other American citizens are held to. Since when did the First Amendment have an age requirement?

Here are my perceptions of the argument for prior review:
1. Students are not always aware of the political or moral implications of their writing
2. School staff may lose their job(s) over issues discussed in student publications
3. Parents might get upset and call the office
4. Students might get upset and call the office
5. Some complete stranger might get upset and call the office
6. I'm out of ideas (seriously...feel free to add some more...I'm drawing a blank)

Here are my arguments against prior review:
1. The student voice should be of no less value than anyone else's
2. If a student publication/broadcast is constantly being censored, it harbors contempt between students and administration
3. If students can't learn to answer to or be accountable for what they write or speak, how will they become aware of the consequences of their words?
4. The adviser's role is to help students find an appropriate way to cover topics of interest, newsworthiness and concern--thus making the need for another reviewer redundant
5. Self-regulation is an important element of becoming media literate--thus becoming a thoughtful citizen
6. Concerns involving prior review seem more concerned with public perception of the school rather than concern for students' intellectual growth
7. Administrators who put less restrictions on student press will avoid the bad BIG media publicity that often comes with the repression of student voices
8. Self-regulation empowers students to make better decisions for themselves

I realize my bias, but having had the opportunity to advise publications on both sides of this idea, I can honestly say that I feel very sorry for school leaders who fail to allow students to grow as citizens simply out of fear for their own hides--which is nothing but an illusory fear to begin with.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What does student media have to offer?

It has been said that children ought to be seen and not heard.

Perhaps in a certain context, that perspective makes sense. Maturity lends itself to wisdom and the lack of either (or both) can be annoying. However, the lack of both in such an assumption (that a child has nothing of value to say) seems equally annoying.

One of the greatest assets of the new media is the accessibility of a voice to all people...no matter how young, old, rich, poor, etc. Information is limited only by the number of people who refuse to participate in the process of sharing it.

And how does one become a "responsible" journalist, exactly? When does an education in media literacy begin? Is it the first time we are suckered into watching a poorly-written sitcom? Is it the first time we stumble onto an online news feed?

Before we start setting guidelines on student rights and freedom to speak out, perhaps we need to look at our own standards for journalistic integrity and see if this is the future we want to share with young participants in a free and democratic society.