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SPJ Education Committee findings provide picture of the state of high school journalism


Oct. 16, 2014

Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360.920.1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Rebecca Tallent, SPJ Journalism Education Committee Chair, 208.596.9507 (PDT), rtallent@uidaho.edu
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317.361.4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Three-fourths of journalism educators surveyed by the Society of Professional Journalists Education Committee report that they constantly or sometimes fear they will be reprimanded for student work that causes controversy.

The findings, are set to be published in January in a book about the state of high school journalism in the United States entitled, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism.” It is the result of three years of research and a survey of nearly 250 Journalism Education Association members in 47 states.

“As part of our research, we conducted a nationwide survey of high school journalism teachers and found some amazing results, including: the majority of teachers are afraid they will be ‘in trouble’ for something their students write…” said Rebecca J. Tallent, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho and chair of the SPJ Journalism Education Committee.

Other findings include, “…the greatest detractors of high school journalism programs are generally parents and other teachers; that many teachers do not have proper training so they understand journalism; and some schools now use journalism as a course for troubled teens as opposed to encouraging the best and brightest students to the program. This is the tip of the iceberg. The whole view is astounding.

“I think what astonishes me the most is the fact that more than 50 percent of the respondents said they receive no help from professional journalists, and colleges and universities provide even less help,” Tallent continued.

In 2011, then-national SPJ President John Ensslin asked the committee to look into the rumor that some high schools were eliminating their journalism programs because of the mistaken belief by administrators that “journalism is dying.” Tallent said the report’s findings conclude that journalism is still very much alive and journalism classes are teaching the Core Curriculum (critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creative thinking), but there is room for improvement.

The committee’s work follows up on two reports: “Captive Voices: The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism” conducted in 1974 and published by the John F. Kennedy Foundation and the 1994 follow-up study, “Death by Cheeseburger: High School Journalism in the 1990s and Beyond.”

The Committee’s recommendations include:
• Training for high school journalism teachers.
• Consistent curriculum design among high school teachers on the state and national level, with journalism courses being recognized as fulfilling Common Core requirements.
• Increasing higher education’s involvement with local scholastic journalism.
• College and university workshops for teachers for continuing education credits.
• Increased professional media involvement.
• Education of school administrators on how journalism teaches core skills.
• Lobbying school districts for more money.
• Identifying ways to generate enthusiasm and participation among high school students.

“The findings of this committee make it clear that we as professional journalists must find ways to help high schools inspire and educate tomorrow’s journalists,” said SPJ National President Dana Neuts.

It’s a goal SPJ, the Journalism Education Association and the Student Press Law Center plan to bring to fruition. At SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism annual convention in September, members passed a resolution to strongly encourage professional and college SPJ chapters to reach out to local high school journalism programs. The groups plan to identify ways in which this can be done.

The book helps high school teachers with the basics of history, law and other issues that can dovetail with outside assistance groups such as SPJ.

“When we have school districts such as the Neshaminy School District who actively punish school newspapers for taking a stand – in this case to the point of the principal openly harassing the students and advisor – it is clear we as professionals and educators need to reach out and help the secondary schools,” Tallent said.

The Neshaminy School District last school year suspended the adviser and punished the editor of the Neshaminy High School student newspaper for refusing to publish the name of the school’s Native American mascot.

New Forums Press will publish the findings both in hardcover and as an ebook in early 2015.
SPJ’s Education Committee members and the book’s authors and editors are Lee Anne Peck, David Burns, Butler Cain, Kym Fox, Suzanne Lysak, Nerissa Young, Jeff South, Adam Maksl, Tracy Burton, Jimmy McCollum, June Nicholson, Mac McKerral, Leticia Steffen and Tallent.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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