Tag Archives: scholastic journalism

The sliderule analogy

Pocket_slide_ruleIn my quest to get high school journalism teachers (an a few of my colleagues at the collegiate level) to stop concentrating on print journalism and start teaching online journalism, I have lately been using the following analogy:

Teaching journalism with only a newspaper is like teaching math with only a slide rule.

It’s a great analogy — nearly perfect in comparing mathematics and journalism.

The problem is that no one knows what a slide rule is.

That hit me the other day when I was in Nashville, holding a couple of sessions for the Tennessee High School Journalism Association fall workshop at David Lipscomb University. I used that analogy in one session, and the group on eager faces, rather than being dazzled by the brilliance of the analogy, stared at me in silence. They admitted readily that they had no idea what I was talking about.

And these weren’t just the students. The adults in the room, the teachers, said the same thing.

In the days before the hand-held calculator, the slide rule — also known as a slipstick — was a valuable tool in making many kinds of calculations. (You can read a lot more about slide rules by Googling the term.)

But that was then, and this is now. I’ll need to rethink the use of this analogy.


And here’s a video in which I use the analogy:

Why Online Journalism from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

Going online: What I tell high school teachers and students

When I am talking to high school journalism workshops and groups these days, I try work in the following points about what it means to work online:

A news website gives scholastic journalists the opportunity to do something they’ve never done — practice “daily journalism.”

They would have to think about the news constantly. “What happened at your school today? What happened yesterday? What will happen tomorrow?” he said.

Finally, I tell them:

  • pay attention to the basics of journalistic writing: accuracy, clarity, precision and efficiency
  • think about the audience: “Always think about the audience. What is it they want to see on your site?”
  • post something new on their news website everyday

This fall, I have spoke to workshops in Chapel Hill, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn..

Teaching AP style: some high school teachers weigh in

What’s your approach to teaching AP style?

There are lots of ways to do it. The suggestions below come from a discussion about that topic on the Journalism Education Association listserv in August. Each of these entries is used with the kind permission of the authors.

Vicki Brennan, MA, CJE

Miami-Dade County, Fla., teacher (retired)
I pick out the parts that students really need to make their publications more professional, so I hit hard on the rules about numbers, dates, time, sports scores, apostrophe use, capitalization, hyphenation and basic grammar, such as people are “who” not “that”.  Going letter-by-letter is going to give them a lot of rules they don’t use much and delay the teaching of some very important ones that they should be using all the time.

Bryan Halpern

Glenbrook North High School
Northbrook, IL
I grab the most used sections of the stylebook, put the students in groups, assign each group a set of rules and then give them the task of teaching the rest of the class about their assigned rules. They do everything from conventional power point presentations and handouts to creating songs, raps or poems about their rules. The songs are great fun, and if annoying enough, stick in the kids’ heads so they can access them from memory when needed. Also, keeping a set of Stylebooks around is a nice resource.

C. E. Sikkenga

I used to do the quizzes and exercises and stuff.  I found that the kids hated them, I hated them and they really didn’t make us that much better. This may just be a reflection of my  personal style and the way it rubs off on my kids, but the traditional approach didn’t work well for me.

I did them all in my journalism classes too–but even after a quarter century of using AP Style, I really don’t remember all the rules myself. Just the really common ones and as I get older and my hard drive has filled up with more stuff, I forget some of those too. Two summers ago, I did an internship at our local paper and found that I don’t really need to memorize style rules–so long as I am smart and fast at looking them up when I need to.  WIth that in mind, in my intro class, I have a basic list of 30 sentences with either one, two or zero errors.  Every student must fix every one correctly before they can be done with that exercise.  It is open book.  Drives them nuts, but eventually they learn to just look everything up and how to use the style book.

Once they make it to the publication class, I tape a one-page list of the most common style issues next to every work station for quick reference. (I use the most excellent one that was posted here a couple years back). There’s also a full AP Stylebook within arm’s reach of any station. Beyond that, if anybody ever asks me a style question (or if I hear them asking anybody else) I just reply with “What does the style book say?”  By the end of the first trimester, most of them get it and it is not too much of an issue–at least with the basics.  If a crazy one pops up, I can help any kid through that one on one.  If something more basic is consistently an issue with many kids, then I’ll work in an impromptu lesson as needed.

I find that this approach frees up class time to use on more interesting things like storytelling or other cool conceptual stuff.

Catherine Podolak

Wyoming Valley West High School
Plymouth, PA
I do AP stylebook once a week where I type up the rules that my students will encounter on a pretty regular basis. I do A-C, D-G, etc. and then I type up exercises where they have to circle the AP error and write out the corrections. They must also keep each handout in a folder. Once we cover the letters, they get points deducted from their articles if the AP errors appear. It works for me.

David Bailey

Lincoln High School
Portland, OR
I have students write the rules, based on AP style, by giving them a series of sentences in categories (times, dates, quotes, etc.) that illustrate correct and incorrect usage. Example: “The dance will begin at 8 p.m.” NOT “The dance will begin at 8pm.” Now write the rule.

I also blow up to poster size the style issues that are most nettlesome and put reduced versions of same next to each computer.

(All of these entries were used by permission, and I thank each of the teachers for them.)
And here’s what adherence to style brings to your writing:

Guiding the student photojournalist

Those of us who have advised students publications or web sites know the type: the young man or woman who wants to take pictures.

Often there is no one who joins the staff who is more enthusiastic or who expresses more willingness to go to work. The problem is that person has little or no experience. They’ve seen good pictures, but they don’t know how to take them.

The challenge for the instructor is to guide that young man or woman in the right direction. Here are some things you should do to help the student photojournalist get started and develop good habits.

rulesforstudentphotojns (PDF)

(Posted Jan. 31, 2005)

A high school journalist, undercover

David McSwane wanted to do something unusual, “something cool.”

What he did was a story for his high school newspaper that made the U.S. Army pay attention and shut down their recruiting efforts for a day while all Army recruiters attended ethics classes.

McSwane is a senior at Arvada West High School in Colorado. He had heard that the Army was having trouble recruiting because of the increasing unpopularity of the war in Iraq, and he had seen recruiters at his high school. It occurred to him to test out how far the recruiters would go to get somebody to sign up.

“I wanted to do something cool, go undercover and do something unusual,” he told the Rocky Mountain News. (Much of the information here comes from the RMN story published this week about him. Here is a link to the RMN’s April 30 story about McSwane.)

McSwane showed up at the Army recruiting office in Golden, Colo., posing as a high school dropout and describing himself as addicted to marijuana and “psychedelic muchrooms.” He acted spaced out, stoned and stupid.

None of that seemed to matter to the recruiters, he said. They told him that his addiction could be licked, and when he said he couldn’t do it, they told him that he could buy a detox kit that would “clean you out.” One recruiter even offered to pay for half of the cost of the kit. The recruiters drove him to a local head shop so he could buy the kit.

The lack of a high school diploma didn’t bother the recruiters either. They encouraged him to take a high school equivalency diploma exam. McSwane took the test but deliberately failed it. (In real life, McSwane is an honors student at Arvada West.) Again, none of this seems to be a problem for the recruiters.

McSwane was told that he could exercise the “home-school option.” They pointed him to a web site where he could get a diploma, complete with transcripts. It took McSwane a few days and $200, but he became a proud graduate of Faith High Baptist School.

McSwane did not wear a recording device when he visited the recruiting station, but he did record some of the phone call from the recruiters. He also got his sister to take a picture of him with the recruiters, and a high school friend with a video camera was across the street from the head shop when he show up to buy the detox kit.

McSwane’s article for his high school paper, The Westwind, (for which McSwane is editor) ran on March 17, 2005.

But rather than just leave it at that, McSwane called several news organizations. CBS4 News in Denver called him back. The TV station’s report prompted the Army to pay attention to recruiting practices across the country. On May 20, 2005, the Army closed all of its recruiting stations so that recruiters could undergo a day of ethics training. It also began an investigation of specific complaints about recruiting practices.

The “something cool” that David McSwane want to do turned out to have important national implications.

Jim Stovall (Posted May 27, 2005)