Looking for Next Semester's Elective? Think Journalism

Filed under: Opinions, Teen Culture, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Education: Teens, Activities: Teens, Expert Advice: Teens

Whether it's Introduction to Journalism, Newspaper, Yearbook or Video Production, a class that gets your teenager involved in the art of interviewing and writing under deadline -- like a regular Barbara Walters or Anderson Cooper -- is sure to nurture invaluable skills. And, by being on a media production staff, your teen might even find that ever-so-needed niche in the swirl of a big campus.

Take Yvonne, one of my students from a few years ago. As a freshman, she was short, overweight, bespectacled, quiet and a C student -- your typical wallflower. A semester spent in a beginning journalism class gave her the writing bug, though, and she soon began to shine as an interviewer.

When an assignment required someone to interview the principal on the dress-code policy, gang vandalism and homecoming preparations, Yvonne was all over it. By senior year, she was editor-in-chief of the school paper and an A student. Not only had her circle of friends grown (she organized staff jaunts to Jack-in-the-Box after putting the latest issue to bed, for instance, but her self-confidence as a writer improved, as well. Her English teachers noticed this change and named her the outstanding graduate in language and literature for that year.

Elective classes such as journalism and media production compete for students' time with old standbys including art, band, drama, chorus, or the latest computer programming trickery. Teachers, myself included, almost have to resort to bribery to recruit students into their classes. Kids often snub journalism, thinking they lack the writing and photography skills needed, or fearing it will be too hard. On top of that, adults often give journalism in today's society a bad rap, assuming all media distorts and sensationalizes the news.

But I'm here to tell you -- and your kids -- that media classes rock. Here are a few reasons why:
  • You get to carry a digital voice recorder, or go old-school and stick a reporter's notepad in your back pocket.
  • You get to wear a media pass and roam campus. Oh, the places you'll go ...
  • You often carry and use a high-end digital camera or a Flipcam and learn how to edit your soon-to-be masterpieces.
  • When you ask principals and staff for an interview, they might actually smile and agree to it because it might be their most pleasant student interaction all day.
And, on the more serious side:
  • You will work as part of a team to create a product that will be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, at your school, whether the product is a newspaper, yearbook or newscast. Your media class buddies will probably be your closest friends because of the amount of time spent together in class and after school, meeting deadlines.
  • You will gain skills that could lead to a career in print, online or broadcast journalism.
  • Even if a journalism career is not your aim, a media class will guide you in learning how to write with precision, clarity and balance. You will learn the importance of accuracy and objectivity whenever you observe a situation and have to tell a story about it later.
  • Journalism isn't just about the five Ws and the H (who, what, where, when, why, how). It compels you to judge what is and isn't news and to consider ideas such as privacy and defamation of character. In other words, journalism promotes critical thinking skills, which students today need to tap into more often.
  • You will be engaged in the kind of pure and simple journalism that our founding fathers found so vital, they instituted press freedom in the First Amendment. How's that for old school?
  • Through your photography and videography, you will capture moments in time that might otherwise be lost: the touchdown that capped a winning season, the student protest against the dress code, the classroom presentation that brought tears to a teacher's eyes.
  • You will gain computer and software skills as you type stories, edit photos, design pages, edit videos and more.
  • If you rise to be an editor or director, you will have an excellent credential for college applications.
  • Throughout your stint in a media class, you will be the eyes and ears for all that's going on at your school, recording stories for posterity. Some stories will be less important than others; but some stories will beg for more discussion on blogs and social networking sites -- fueled by you and your classmates. There's a very good chance that a story will catch the attention of mainstream media, and just think: the world would not have known about these stories if not for your role as citizen journalist.
As for the impact of a media production class on your student's school life, the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication put it this way in a 2008 statement: "... those with student media experience get better high school grades overall, outscore others on ACT tests and earn higher grades in college."

So, stop by your school's media production labs sometime. You will be impressed by not only the high-spirited camaraderie and teamwork, but also by the learning environment.

Like Yvonne and so many other of my former students, you just might find -- sharing hamburgers or pizza or sodas late into the afternoon as you meet a deadline -- that journalism is your thing.

Just for fun, here's another view on the journalism business!


Deborah Ross writes about art, health, lifestyles and education from Phoenix, where she has lived for more than 30 years. She is a former reporter and copy editor for the Arizona Republic and is the co-author of the first edition of The Insiders' Guide to Phoenix, part of a national travel series. She spent 10 rewarding years in public education, as an English teacher and adviser to her high school's newspaper and yearbook students.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.