(I am re-publishing this column – that also appeared in the Indy Star a few years ago – because the same issues largely remain and this continues to be the roots of my mission with the Urban Media Project.)
By Donna Griffin
When it comes to journalism, high school sets the stage, the standards and the opportunities for young reporters and editors. And when newsrooms look to diversity, that’s where they will find the voices of color and varied perspectives.
If they are there.
Last week as a part of IU’s High School Journalism Institute, I was lucky to be able to listen to Jack Dvorak, former HSJI director and current IU professor talk about his study with the Newspaper Association of America, “Journalism Matters.” I know from experience that Dvorak’s findings are solid – journalism kids really do better and tend to score higher on ACT then those without experience on newspaper or yearbook staffs. They thrive on preparation, on quickly and efficiently synthesizing ideas, on bringing those ideas to fruition and making things happen. Deadlines, pressure and demand for the best effort are nothing new to them.
While I found these conclusions heartening and have actually used them to attempt to wrangle money from from school administration and alumni, it was another statement I latched onto, the one about how it is not only the “best” kids that make the “best” journalists. Newspaper, yearbook, online and broadcast provide opportunities for artists, writers, computer “geeks”, graphic artists, salespeople, marketers and sometimes those obnoxious students who just won’t stop talking and keep asking questions.
This is diversity as much as ethnicity, gender and income level.
As my students travel to the IHSPA Fall Convention and First Amendment Forum, Herff Jones Yearbook workshop and Ball State J-Day, they are acutely aware that they are often the only black students in the crowd. Many of them have not traveled outside their neighborhoods, but they are brave enough to be the ones to stand out in the crowd and bring their unique perspectives as inner-city black youth. I am always proud of them for participating and excelling as young journalists. It is harder for them with financial and social challenges, those outside their neighborhoods don’t understand.
But these are facts, not excuses.
The opportunities and skills learned in journalism are not extra-curricular or only for the gifted and talented, they are critical to surviving and managing life in this information-overloaded, technologically inundated society.
My students and the more than 33,000 students in Indianapolis Public Schools deserve the same chance as the majority of young journalists in Indiana and across the nation, no matter their race, income, background, academic level or ethnicity.
Until professional, university and high school journalism organizations address diversity, both in academics and demographics at the high school level, young people in inner cities, minorities and low income students will be shut out of what Dvorak calls, “the wonderful gateway to career and life choices” by being a newspaper, yearbook, online or broadcasting staff member.
And we all lose with a much less vibrant, constrained discussion in the future.