The Gift of Gab: Part 3 (Why Journalism Matters #6)

This is Part 3 of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

In the final post of the “Gift of Gab” series for Why Journalism Matters, pitching articles must be discussed. Yes, many editors dole out article assignments to their writers because certain subjects and events need to be covered; but when a rookie journalist looks to make a name for herself, pitching to editors is crucial. Pitching articles not only shows initiative, but also proves that a journalist has her finger on the pulse of what’s newsworthy (read: timely, unique, prominent, local, etc.).

In the world of scholastic journalism, though, in order to effectively pitch, students again must use refined communication skills to convey ideas; even the most compelling article idea can fall flat to an editor if the reporter’s pitch proves poor.

At Pascack Hills, Trailblazer staff typically pitch ideas orally at regularly scheduled meetings. Students must present ideas loudly and clearly for the entire staff to hear, as there are more than 50 members on staff. If they wish to cover their own pitch, they have to convince the section editor that the idea or event is worthy of coverage. They must be able to clearly and concisely articulate their thoughts, as not everyone knows about the topics presented and there’s only a limited amount of time to hear everyone’s ideas (not to mention the teenage attention span is short . . .).

When a pitch is presented, students are given the chance to volunteer to cover the article if the pitcher doesn’t want to cover it. At that point, effective pitching is even more crucial. If the pitcher believes in the value of the article, and this value is not effectively conveyed to the rest of the staff, she will hear crickets. Communicative skills like clear tone, voice projection, body language, intonation, clear reasoning, and even counterarguments are essential for students who are also scholastic journalists.

If a staff member misses a meeting, she can add an idea to a pitch meeting Google Doc that’s created and submitted to the staff, post-meeting. Here, brevity and strong word choice are crucial, as students have but a few words to summarize and “sell” their article ideas to the rest of the staff.

English teachers see these skills all the time when students write claims for argumentative essays or have to get their points across in Socratic seminars and class discussions. If you want to integrate pitching articles directly into your English classes, have a lesson where students come prepared to pitch article ideas for a mock newspaper. Maybe it’s a newspaper set in the 1920s to go along with your unit on The Great Gatsby in order to provide historical context; or maybe you simply want to focus on current events. Either way, pitching article ideas gets students reading nonfiction texts, analyzing the world around them, and creating effective arguments.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on pitching articles fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9-10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4

Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.4

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterlyand has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

The Gift of Gab: Part 1 (Why Journalism Matters #4)

This is Part I of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

No matter what career a student pursues after high school, almost all of them require some semblance of communication skills. Whether it’s email correspondence, the interview process, collaboration with colleagues or some form of persuasion and argumentation (sales, advertising, law, etc.), students must leave high school with a certain degree of comfort and clarity in conveying thoughts and ideas.

Scholastic journalism is probably the only class that provides built-in experience with real-life communication situations. Through the next few posts of the Why Journalism Matters series, I will bring you through various ways journalism classes and newspaper clubs teach vital communication skills to students in authentic ways that other classes don’t.

Part 1: Interviews

Before a journalist and her source even sit down for an interview, the interview must be scheduled. Journalists have to approach this request with professionalism and tact, especially if the interview has the possibility of meandering into precarious topics. Like the rest of us, a source obviously has a limited amount of time for interviews, and if he or she is highly sought after, a journalist may be vying for precious time with competing publications. A well-crafted email request or a friendly phone call that convinces the source that an interview with you is worth the time may be just what it takes to secure an exclusive.

At the actual interview, which is ideally in person or over the phone, the journalist is not just responsible for firing premade questions at her source. The source is still a person, and no one appreciates feeling like he is under interrogation by a robot. A journalist’s first job is to make the source feel comfortable; therefore, scholastic journalism gives students the chance to work on “small talk,” imperative in most real-world workplaces.

More than just having the ability to speak well, though, journalists must also listen well! They cannot stick to the 20 questions they prepared in the days prior to the interview; they have to ask follow-up questions and let the source’s answers drive the interview in the natural direction it takes. Sometimes the best stories come from interviews that start to feel less like interviews and more like casual conversations. Not that a journalist should manipulate her sources into a false sense of security; but most journalists enter the field because they love to talk to people and tell others’ stories when no one else has, or will.

Next week, I will discuss how soliciting advertisements further nurtures students’ communicative skills and prepares them for the real world in only the way scholastic journalism can.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on interviewing fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9-10:

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.A

Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C
  • Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2
  • Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.3
  • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.6
  • Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9-10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Why Journalism Matters: Objectivity

This is the fifth in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  This was originally posted today on NCTE’s blog.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only teacher who encounters this problem, but no matter how many times I tell my students that essays must be written in third-person point of view, I still see “I,” “us,” and “you” in their writing; and I’m not only talking about my English classes.

Maybe it’s because they grow up in an age where social media provides a perpetual soapbox, but my students constantly want to make sure their ideas are labeled as such. To counteract this informal use of language in their writing, I review first-, second- and third-person points of view and model ways to turn a weak statement written in first person (which is clearly an opinion) into a stronger, third-person statement that makes opinion look like fact.

Journalism classes and newspapers require the same degree of third-person objectivity, albeit the approach to obtaining said objectivity differs. A thesis statement is always arguable, but the information disseminated through a news story shouldn’t be. Only the facts should be given, and if opinions are present, they are the opinions of quoted sources.

The Trailblazer staff has always struggled with remaining completely objective in their news stories. I really think it’s because they’re so passionate about what they’re writing about. The students want to be in support of our new transgender policy or cheer for thewonderful season the football team had. They have to understand, though, that the facts and quotes, if utilized correctly, speak for themselves. A well-written news story gives the reader everything he needs to form his own opinion, because the goal of journalism is to inform, not persuade.

The same is true for an informative/explanatory essay: the goal is to inform the reader, not persuade them to think or feel a certain way. Therefore, the textual evidence presented in the essay must speak for itself and allow the reader to either accept or refute the thesis presented.

Writing news articles, whether in a journalism or English class (perhaps on a current event that relates to the core text of a unit), helps to teach students to write objectively, formally, and with varied evidence to support their main idea.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on objectivity fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1 – Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.D – Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.8- Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Why Journalism Matters: Spit It Out!

This was originally published on NCTE’s blog at: http://blogs.ncte.org/index.php/2016/05/journalism-matters-2-spit/

No teacher wants to read it. No student wants to write it. It’s the two-page essay that stretched into five. Why did the student write SO much when it wasn’t required? Was it his passion to analyze the psychological underpinnings of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye? Was it her love of playing with words: reordering, replacing, adding, and subtracting until she created the perfect construction to prove her claim? Although that may be every English teacher’s dream, a paper likely rambles on, repeats ideas, and strays off topic because the writer does not know how to write a strong, succinct composition.

Journalism classes, even more than English classes, value conciseness, consistency, and clarity. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, today’s readers have the attention span of gnats; you’d better grab them hard and grab them fast, because they’re one click away from the next story, the next book, the next tweet. To circumvent this problem, journalists typically use what is called inverted pyramid structure.

This construction, different from traditional essay writing, places the most important information first and allows editors to quickly and efficiently cut copy, from the bottom up.

This weekend, I read through The Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists by Rene J. Cappon. Through organized chapters, Cappon details what makes for superfluous writing, including unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, passive voice, modifiers, and qualifiers, just to name a few. He makes this stripping-down easier to see through side-by-side examples:

There was no one in the group of bystanders who came to the victim’s aid. vs. No one in the group of bystanders helped him.

A simple editing and rearranging of this sentence is the difference between a winding, 15-word sentence and a concise, 9-word sentence.

Entries and exercises like these, found in journalism classes, could help English students create clear, organized writing, and by extension, give them a clearer idea of what they are arguing in the first place. Students should be encouraged to “cut the fat” and stop worrying about sounding sophisticated, complex, and “smart.”

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on concise writing fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.A: Introduce precise claim(s) . . . and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2.D: Use precise language.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Critiques and Conferences

Hello everyone! I think we’re FINALLY seeing some warm (and dry!) weather in New Jersey this week. The past few weeks have been so dreary that it has hardly felt like spring!

We’ve had some exciting organizations-based experiences the past week through some conferences and critiques. If you’re an adviser, and you are not yet a part of these organizations, I’m telling you, the annual fees are pretty minimal and totally worth it!

Critiques: NSPA and ASPA

Over break, we finally received our newspaper critiques from the National Scholastic Press Association and the American Scholastic Press Association! I say “finally” because we were waiting with baited breath for the results (or at least I was!); although I DO know that critiquing is a very involved process with all the criteria involved, the scoring math, and the detailed feedback and suggestions that both organizations give you.

We received second-place standing from ASPA, with our highest score in editing! In their suggestions, they mentioned posting a master calendar in the room for deadlines, club events, etc (working on that with our budget…), headline writing (4-6 words with an action verb), inverted pyramid style for news stories, and writing objectively. Furthermore, they suggested we keep working on consistency with photo credits.

We received second place standing for NSPA, too. They loved our “College Corner” section and “Two-Minute Drill” podcast. They suggested we create a features section, work more on breaking news, find ways to localize national and world news stories, add video, complete our About Us staff profiles, add more video, use more than just Twitter for our social media presence, and include more hyperlinks in our stories.

Overall, we find these critiques incredibly helpful and give us very specific goals we can work toward!

Conferences

On Friday, I attended the GSSPA Spring Advisers Conference. Unfortunately, though, I missed all of the sessions to take the three-hour Certification for Journalism Education (CJE) exam; and boy, was that a hard exam! I studied for a month, but it encompasses everything from news writing, to advising, to photography terms, to video broadcasting and editing, to the entire history of journalism and Supreme Court cases! I think I passed, but it takes 6-8 weeks to score everything (there are a  lot of short answers to go through), so I’m crossing my fingers until then! I did, however, get to network a bit at the breakfast and lunch with other advisers and reporters, as well as my JEA mentor, Ron.

That’s all for now! Next week, I will post my latest NCTE blog on scholastic journalism. Apparently it’s picking up a bit of traction in both the English and journalism professional circles which I think is fantastic. I’m hoping NJ steps up to become of the scholastic journalism “super states” and joins the ranks of the west coast and midwest states!

Until next time…

Ms. Rome

Why Journalism Matters #1 Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Thesis vs. Lede

This is the second in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome. 
How to teach essay writing: it’s one of the biggest struggles as an English teacher. Crafting a well-written thesis, organizing and prioritizing information, backing up claims with textual evidence and many more subtle skills students need to master before they leave our classrooms. . . .

Wouldn’t it be nice if those skills were reinforced in another class, as well?

Enter journalism classes.

Although any journalism teacher will tell you that article writing is vastly different from essay writing, both share many of the vital skills students need to effectively communicate through the written word.

Through this “Why Journalism Matters” mini-blog series, I will highlight several similarities between essay and article writing, and by extension, show how journalism programs can be utilized to help foster and reinforce strong writing and communication skills among English students.

Thesis/Lede

The heart of the essay, the “so what?,” the author’s main argument or claim. Whatever you call it and however you define it for students, the basic premise is the same: students need to know how to frame their ideas clearly so their readers know what is being argued.

A lede (pronounced “lead”) serves the same purpose in article writing; it is a brief (often 35-40 word) introduction considered to be the most important part of the article. The lede presents the reader with the “5W and H”: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Although ledes have always been considered the most crucial part of a story, readers’ dwindling attention spans, thanks to bite-size news found in SnapChat and Twitter, have made grabbing their attention an even bigger challenge.

Teaching journalism students to write effective leads helps reinforce effective theses in English classes. Ledes teach students how to present the most salient information first, helping to frame the rest of the text for the reader. Moreover, both effective ledes and theses must utilize active voice and help the writer clarify the angle, or purpose, of their writing.

For more information on writing ledes, see the following links:

How To Write a Great Lede for Your News Story (About.com) — Goes over what a lede is and breaks down several effective ledes into their parts.

A Lede Should . . . (College Journalism) — Lists and explains various types of story ledes.

How To Write a Lede (OWL Purdue) — A very comprehensive resource for different kinds of ledes, with examples and do’s and dont’s.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

Classroom Close-up NJ, The Columbia Spectator Conference, A Journalism Community and A New Editorial Board

Hi everyone! Last week’s post on the importance of scholastic journalism to English classrooms is up on NCTE’s blog here.  A lot of people on Twitter are sharing and retweeting, both from the English and journalism professional worlds. Watching both  “collide” is a really wonderful thing.

NJTV’s Classroom Close-up NJ Features Trailblazer

This was probably the biggest news all week (and this was QUITE a week for us), even though we’ve been on spring break! Our NJTV Classroom Close-up segment aired, and we are SO happy with it. It really shows our strengths as a journalism program and our determination to keep growing and improving.

See it here: https://youtu.be/7QiD69IoFVU

Columbia Spectator Conference

Emma and Olivia (our photography editor and future EIC, respectively) attended this conference two weekends ago and they had such an amazing time. They shared their Google doc notes with me, and we all debriefed in person about their experiences. Both girls learned a lot about data journalism and how to use that data to steer coverage; investigative journalism and how to brainstorm ideas; and most importantly, journalism ethics. While the students have technology, social media and the flow of a daily newspaper down, we need to make very clear the ethics behind it all. A lot of it is common sense, but there are nuances that take us from school paper to professional paper, and also keep us out of legal hot water. Next year, when I take over the journalism class, I’ll reserve an entire unit for law and ethics (important court cases, censorship, prior review, libel, misappropriation, etc.)  Ben Libman, managing editor of The Columbia Spectator, also agreed to serve as an unofficial mentor to Olivia next year, basically just fielding any email questions she has. She was particularly impressed with him and the sheer amount of knowledge he had. The kids are already starting to network!

A Journalism Community 

I recently signed up for the Journalism Education Association’s listserv and it is ESSENTIAL for anyone in the journalism scholastic community. If you don’t know what a listserv is, it’s like an online forum that you can have emailed to you daily. Journalism educators ask a variety of questions, share material or articles and plan events, etc. Not only is this just a crucial resource from a journalism educator standpoint, it’s also a fantastic indicator of how tight knit and supportive the journalism educator community is, particularly within JEA. Since our English department won’t be ordering anymore books until September, my class and I don’t have textbooks for next year. Our journalism classes have been surviving (and dare I say, thriving) without one for years, but I think it’s good to have one as a reference point and resource. I asked for donations for textbooks and got an overwhelming response. I have one teacher sending me a class set of Radical Write and another sending me half a class set of the AP Stylebook. These are just people who, out of the goodness of their hearts, want to help fellow educators who also believe strongly in the benefits and power of scholastic journalism. It made me happy to be a part of the scholastic journalism community, and especially to be a part of JEA.

A New Editorial Board

Two weeks ago, Trailblazer sent out a Google form to the entire staff, encouraging people to apply for leadership and editorial positions for next year. Last week, the editorial board met to go over the applications and choose their successors. After AP tests this coming week (which will be stressful for our exclusively-senior board…), the successors will shadow current position holders and start getting used to their roles. I’m very happy with those chosen and think they are strong, capable students who will take the paper even further than it’s gone in just a short amount of time.

That’s all for now! I’m on spring break, and yet, I still feel busy. Such is the plight of a Type-A overachiever…

Until next time!

-Ms. Rome

Recognizing the Importance of Scholastic Journalism

The following post will also be feature on NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) blog on Thursday, April 28. 

Most successful and passionate educators consistently advocate for a particular issue or philosophy. I’m currently reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and her pedological crusade involves creating passion, stamina and autonomy in students’ reading, creating lifelong readers that are prepared for the rigor of college and beyond.

 

Over the past four years, my goal as an educator has evolved into advocating for scholastic journalism, by promoting its value in schools and its ability to enhance and enrich English study. In an age where No Child Left Behind still reins supreme as The Every Student Succeeds Act; states grapple with adopting PARCC and SBAC assessments; and districts nationwide continue to cut budgets, aspects of education that do not expressly deal with core content areas seemingly become expendable.

 

I am here to prove that turning away from “elective” programs like journalism will not benefit students in our apparent goal to make them “college and career ready.” In fact, several conducted studies indicate the opposite: Involvement in scholastic journalism and newspaper programs correlate with higher standardized test scores and better college GPAs. These programs also improve students’ critical thinking, research, communicative and writing skills; but that’s a much deeper conversation for another blog post.

 

My initiative to promote scholastic journalism came alive last year with a proposition from my supervisor and superintendent: to teach a part-time class load, and dedicate the rest of my time to renovating our journalism and newspaper program. With no end goal or desired result communicated, I was left to my own devices to find ways to improve and advance our program.

 

In order to chronicle my journey, document my progress for administration, and help out fellow journalism teachers and advisers tasked with the same initiative, I created my blog, The Trials of Trailblazing, a play on our newspaper name, Trailblazer. On a weekly basis, I discuss our successes, failures, goals, fears and ideas. My hope is that advisers and teachers will read my blog, learn from my journey, or at the very least, become inspired and empowered to execute their own ideas.  

NCTE Blog, CSPA Judge Invitation, Controversial Issues & First Unsigned Editorial

Happy Tuesday, all! It’s been about a week and a half since I checked in, so  I have a lot to catch you up on!

NCTE Blog

Early last week, I received the weekly newsletter from National Council of Teachers of English, of which I am a member. They were asking for members to email them with answers to the following question: What are the most important and pressing issues in English today? I decided to email back, arguing that the importance of journalism programs to English departments needs to be discussed more. A few hours later, I received a reply asking if I would be willing to be a contributor to NCTE’s blog. Every Thursday starting April 28, I will be writing a post on NCTE’s blog on my journey with Pascack Hills’ journalism program, the benefits of journalism programs to English classes, and how to incorporate journalism skills into English classrooms. For the sake of not spreading myself too thin, I may reprint what appears on NCTE onto this blog. I think my NCTE posts will also benefit my readership here because it will help teachers integrate journalism skills and assignments into journalism and English classrooms.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.36.38 PM

CSPA Judge Invitation

A few days later, I received a personal invitation from Columbia University. Now, what’s more exciting than that?!

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.15.31 PM

For those who aren’t members of Columbia Scholastic Press Association, one of the perks is an annual critique of your publication, whether it’s digital, newspaper and/or yearbook. You receive a critique (ours was 16 pages!) filled with helpful feedback, positive comments and suggestions for improvement. In October, Trailblazer received a gold medal; and this was before we completely renovated the look of the website! My goal next fall is for us to receive a Gold Crown Award

*Snaps back to reality* Anyway, they’ve asked me to be a judge and help critique publications for the fall conference. I’m so excited for this opportunity for several reasons. I mean, how great is it to have CSPA on your resume? More importantly, though, becoming a judge allows me to know EXACTLY what judges look for; how perfect is that for Trailblazer? This opportunity will allow us to become much more polished and professional as a publication, and that’s the end goal: to create a newspaper with professionalism and integrity (and of course, still have fun!).

 

Controversial Issues

In my personal life, I hate drama and controversy. I have to say, though, as a newspaper adviser, I love it. Controversy breeds passionate editorials. People with strong opinions on the topic want to read more about it, see what others are saying, and inform their own opinions. The Board of Education of Pascack Valley Regional High School District has been working to approve a policy that states transgender students are entitled to the same right as other students; in a nutshell, these students are allowed to use the bathroom or locker rooms of the gender they identify with. I think this is very progressive of the district, and on a personal level, I couldn’t be prouder to work here.

Photo from NorthJersey.com

Photo from NorthJersey.com

Other people, though, have made their opposing opinions known. An evangelical group, Liberty Counsel, has even threatened to sue the district if we approve the policy, which we did just last night.

This type of controversy has elicited passionate opinion pieces from our staff, expert reporting and interviews, a buzz for our publication, and perhaps most importantly, a discussion among students and the community on an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

Here are the Trailblazer articles that have been published so far on this issue:

 

First Unsigned Editorial

One of CSPA’s biggest critiques of Trailblazer was our lack of unsigned editorials. Editorials are unsigned opinion pieces that reflect and represent the opinion of the editorial staff. They are essential to professional and reputable publications. For our first unsigned editorial, we plan on writing in favor of the new transgender policy. We are using a Google doc that the entire editorial staff can access, add to, revise, etc. We’re hoping to have it on Trailblazer by Friday morning.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.48.05 PM

 

Well that’s all for now! I have one or two staff members attending the Inaugural Journalism Conference of the Columbia Spectator, Columbia University’s newspaper on Saturday, so hopefully they have a lot to report back with on Monday!

 

Until then…

Ms. Rome

CSPA Debrief, BC the Mag/201 Magazine, Columbia Invitation

Happy Friday! With the weather getting nicer, we’re antsier and antsier for spring break (we haven’t had it yet!). I have to say, though, my staff is SO focused. I’ve been so impressed with and proud of them lately. They’re really thinking hard about how we can improve the paper for next year and “sell the experience” of a real newspaper publication (I have to credit Bill Rawson for that quote and philosophy; it’s such a great way to frame a journalism program and boost staff morale. Thanks, “dude”!)

 

CSPA Debrief Meeting

The four students and I who went to Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Spring Convention met up yesterday afternoon and discussed what we learned for a solid hour. We all went to different sessions, so we took notes on a community Google doc. That way, we could come together and discuss what ideas we liked, what we could implement right away, and what could wait until September. Some of the ideas we came up with were:

  • Staggering deadlines – Giving “personalized” deadlines would help writers feel more like they’re being held accountable for their work and responsibilities.
  • An absence limit – Other clubs have a limited amount of absences per year. As a result, Trailblazer meetings sometimes become a lower priority to students involved in other activities. If we implement this, too, and possibly a minimum amount of articles written per year, students will be more motivated to participate and show up to meetings.
  • Upperclassmen shadows – We want to pair upperclassmen with lowerclassmen, at least at the beginning of the year, so lowerclassmen and new staff members can learn the ropes without me and the EICs teaching everyone.
  • Learn to Learn class – Pascack high schools offer various Learn to Learn classes during a free period called Pascack Period. L2L’s are teacher- or student-led and can be about any topic that interests students. Having an L2L Journalism Crash Course may be helpful. Every other week we can hold classes that would cover a variety of topics: structure, interviewing, editing, AP Styling, etc.
  • More whiteboards/new furniture – Many schools said they use whiteboards to help staff update article progress and keep up on deadlines. Another teacher at Pascack received new furniture this year (couches, bistro tables, etc), including white boards. If I was maybe next in line for new furniture, I could get whiteboards and furniture that would be conducive to journalism class/newspaper club. I’ll have to ask administration about that as the year comes to a close…
  • Mission statement – Over the summer, we agreed we need to come up with a mission statement. Why are we producing this publication? What is our goal? Who is our audience? These questions need to be answered to help us frame our outlook and production.

201 Magazine/BC The Mag

Our managing editor, Jamie Spelling, was published in two professional publications: 201 Magazine and BC the Mag. We at Trailblazer could not be more proud of her. She is certainly one of our rising stars, very wise beyond her years. Congrats, Jamie!

Columbia Inaugural Journalism Conference

Trailblazer was invited to attend Columbia University’s Inaugural Journalism Conference on Saturday, April 16. Students can attend workshops by journalism majors and newspaper staff and network with college students. Although I cannot attend, I’m encouraging my staff to go. It’s such an honor to be invited and they can learn A TON from journalism students who attend one of the most prestigious journalism programs in the country!

 

That’s all for now! It’s Friday and I’m about to bust out of here!

Until next time.

-Ms. Rome

 

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