Jacky Hicks

Setting the pace with online journalism

The National Scholastic Press Association recently announced
the online Pacemaker Awards for the 2006/2007 school year. Here they are for you to explore:

Look for story ideas, coverage ideas, creative interactivity and other things you can try in your print or online publication.

Create an online version of your newspaper through Myhighschooljournalism.org.   Read more


‘Digg’ for story ideas at popurls.com

Citizen media websites, such as YouTube, Netscape and Digg,
are a goldmine for story ideas. These sites allow users to submit stories,
videos or pictures. Users rate them, or the stories get ranked by how often they’re viewed. For example, Digg.com
has users “digg” (if they like) or “bury” (if they don’t) a submission.
The submissions with the most “diggs” appear on a popular stories page.

There are so many of these sites, however, that wading
through them would be time-consuming. Popurls.com offers a solution. The site tracks top headlines and
hits from a dozen such web sites as well as from several more conventional
sources, like Google News and Wired.

Some of these headlines can be localized. Digg’s “10 Unexpected Uses of the Ipod” 
lists downloadable programs like TipKalc, which calculates tips and totals and can
divide a check up to five different ways.
The story also mentions students using the device to record lectures, create
electronic flashcards, learn foreign languages and cheat on tests. How are students in your school using their
ipods? What are some of the most popular
downloads? What are teachers doing about
these recently publicized cheating methods?

In a recent Morning Meeting
, Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote that he finds many story ideas on Stateline.org, the Casey Journalism
newsletter, IRE.org hot tips, ResourceShelf, DocuTicker, Digg and

So start digging online for ideas, and tell us what you find.

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How to localize the Virginia Tech shootings

If your staff plans to localize the Virginia Tech shooting story, consider:
Al Tompkins’ “Campus Security” piece on Al’s Morning Meeting provides links to campus crime statistics and campus security details.  Seek similar information for your own school. What campus security measures does your high school employ?  What types of crimes occur on your campus?  How often? What are the trends?
In “Resources for covering school shootings,” Tompkins provides more good coverage tips, including “Warning Signs of Youth Violence.”  He also talks about the value of student-generated content, such as accounts and reflections on Facebook, MySpace and other networking sites. In another Al’s Morning Meeting column last October, after the killings in Colorado and then in the Amish school, Tompkins links to websites that track school violence and others that offer safer school design ideas.

Keep an eye on the A-Blast Online at Annandale High School in Virginia. The A-Blast posted a story the day after the shooting reporting on a alumna, a freshman at Virginia Tech, who died in the massacre. More coverage is planned, including podcasts and video.

And see Kelly McBride’s Culture of Blame: Ask the Right Questions of the Right People column on Poynter Online and consider the ethics of the coverage you provide. Are you practicing responsible journalism or, in an effort to assign blame, asking the wrong questions of the wrong people? 

Plus, take a look at this Poynter Online story about how print media played the story. Even daily newspapers were printing old news if they simply recast what had already appeared online and on TV news. Remember that your readers will know what happened — don’t write a breaking news story about an event that happened weeks ago.

If your school localizes this story, send us a link or a PDF. We might run it in our blog, Your Turn.

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10 steps to better decisions on deadline

It’s difficult to make good decisions on deadline. The mind, muddied by the ticking of the clock, resorts to dualism—do or not-do, print or not-print, edit or not-edit, forgetting to consider ethical dimensions, such as who the decision will affect.

Poynter, together with ASNE, has created The Ethics Tool, a 10-step guide to better decision-making on deadline. The tool asks you to compose responses to a series of questions, and then compiles these responses in a printable document.

For example, Step 6 provides this list of potential stakeholders in an issue:

1. Source
2. Subject of the story
3. Family of subject or source
4. Institution affected
5. News organization
6. Other news organizations
7. Person making the decision
8. The journalist involved
9. Others

It then asks you to identify the stakeholders in your case that will be most affected as well as those that are most vulnerable. Step 7 asks you to identify alternative courses of action, and Step 8 tells you to evaluate these options by considering the likely favorite of both types of stakeholders.

After you’ve completed the steps, you can invite others to work on the case and give feedback to your responses.

The Ethics Tool forces you to articulate, test and defend the action you choose. It reminds you to slow down and consider the ramifications of editorial decisions.

Jeff Nusser, journalism adviser of JayWire newsmagazine at Emerald Ridge H.S. (South Hill, Wash.), wrote in a shout-out to the Ethics Tool on the Washington Journalism Education Association’s blog:

“I always tell my staff that it’s not what you can do in a given situation, but what you should do. The more often you concentrate on the latter — which is exactly what this tool will help you decide — the more you will build credibility with your administration and, more importantly, your readers.”

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Riffin’ on hip-hop: covering cultures at your school

A high school is like a small city, teeming with diversity. There are the cheerleaders, the band members, the gothics. There
are the theatre kids, and the English-as-a-second-language kids, and
the track team.  The list is endless. 

Can you tell their stories? 

National Geographic‘s multimedia piece “Hip-Hop Planet” might illustrate how. The work, a recent Morning Meeting multimedia item (March 30),
traces hip-hop culture from its African roots to the boys on the street to the stars it made famous. It examines hip-hop as a global phenomenon, from New
York to Paris
and Israel. Tompkins writes about the project:

“The piece takes a wide-angle look at the story, before
zooming in on some local talent, and working through the big names in hip-hop.
I like the mix of video, stills, music, and narration.”

“Hip-Hop Planet” is not only valuable for what it teaches
about producing multimedia but for what it shows us about the scope of journalism. Journalists don’t just cover news, they cover
people. They cover cultures.

Make sure you read the actual
in “Hip-Hop Planet”.  Notice that the
creators, writer James McBride and photographer David Alan Harvey,
didn’t just stick themselves into a group of nameless faces; they
focused on a couple individuals and told the story of the group through
their eyes.

Have you ever covered the hip-hop beat?  Have you thought about
getting inside the cultures of your high school and revealing them to
your readers? Use “Hip-Hop Planet” to get you started.   

Off the RadarOff the Radar, an award-winning story from The Gazette of Granite Bay High School, is another example of covering cultures, this one the drug beat. 

Tell us if this gives you any ideas. Send us the work you’ve done along a similar
vein. How have you reported on the
cultures of your school?

For more story ideas from Al Tompkins, see this list we’ve compiled of Morning Meeting items that are relevant to scholastic journalists.

Jacky Hicks 

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CSPA Circle winners

“The mother looks deep into the soul of the man that ended
her daughter’s life and searches for her faith.”

Such powerful language helped senior Greg Stitt of the Granite
Bay High School
Gazette win second place in news
features in Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s 2007
Scholastic Circle awards.

Former GBHS High School Student Sentenced to 11 Years in PrisonFormer GBHS High School Student Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison relays the story of a former student, Kourtney Ketchersid, killed by another
former student, Joshua Bauser, when he ran a red light while driving drunk. Stitt’s writing is full of detail, from 82
mph, the speed at which Bauser’s car smashed into Ketchersid’s and ended her
life, to the Bible verse quoted on her gravestone. He also captured great quotes:

“There’s always going to be something missing,” said Kourtney’s mother, Lori. “Whether it’s going to dinner and you make
reservations — you make it for four now instead of five. It’s the little things.”

The CSPA Scholastic Circle
awards cover 75 categories, from writing to photography and
design. The association typically
whittles down more than 10,000 entries to about 1,000 award-winners.

The Gazette won more than a half-dozen of those awards this year.
It’s not the first time the newspaper has placed well. It won the Pacemaker award for the1999-2000
school year and was a finalist in three other years; it was a four-time winner
of the Gallup Award sponsored by Quill and Scroll; and it won a CSPA Gold Crown
in 2004 (it won a silver this year).
Other winning Gazette stories included:

Coach's Pay Increased by Extra FeesCoach’s Pay Increased by Extra Fees — an
investigative piece about the cheerleading coach asking squad members
for an
extra $200 choreography fee to supplement her official stipend. The
story reports both sides of the issue, that of underpaid coaches who
need the extra money to
dedicate the time to the team, and of frustrated students tired of
paying extra
to participate. The story placed second
in the news writing category.

Off the RadarOff the Radar — received an honorable mention for the
in-depth news/feature story category. The story delves into the underworld of ecstasy,
using two GBHS seniors as anonymous sources and describing a rave they
attended as observers. Authors Dena
Fehrenbacher and Nick Meuller frame the students’ first-hand experiences with a
vivid portrayal of the drug’s addictive qualities and lethal consequences. 

Also, 21 Students Caught Drinking at Prom21 Students Caught Drinking at Prom by Jameson Korb
and Sabrina Vogeley, won 3rd Place in news writing; Band BashBand Bash by
Michele Petros won 3rd
place for photo stories; and Where is the Love?Where is the Love? by Lauren
Grubaugh won an honorable mention for personal opinion pieces.

Please send us pdf files of your own work, award-winning or not, so
we can share them here. Tell us how you reported the story (or captured
it, if a photograph) and anything you learned in the


Scholarships for student journalists

These sites have excellent lists of journalism scholarships for high school and college students. Take some time searching through them. You might be rewarded for your efforts.
Scholarships organized by state or by ethnicity
Lists and describes journalism scholarships for both high school and college students
This page details a half-dozen NABJ journalism scholarships for African-Americans, up to $5,000. Some local branches of NABJ offer scholarships, too.
NAHJ offers several scholarships to Hispanic students interested in journalism
Awards of up to $2,500 for Asian students pursuing journalism careers
Scholarships for Native American students pursuing journalism in higher education

This site offers scholarships to high-achieving low-income students.  Recipients in 2007 had household incomes of $0 to $62,000 and were in the top 5% of their graduating class.  Check it out at QuestBridge.
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A potentially volatile investigation

Al Tompkins’ Morning Meeting item “Dangerous chemicals in High School Labs” (March 9) is worth a look — a careful look — at any high school. A Post Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho) story reported on the discovery of half-century-year-old laboratory chemicals stuffed into a crate and left under the high school stage. Properly disposing of hazardous materials can be costly and cumbersome, and the potentially dangerous chemicals sometimes just get ignored.

Tompkins quotes from a 2005 Boston Globe story:

Old substances in science labs often aren’t found until teachers do major cleanups, such as after the departure of a longtime teacher, or when school supplies have to be moved. Compounding the problem is a lack of guidelines from the state Department of Education instructing public schools on how to store and dispose of chemicals and how often to take inventory, according to science teachers.

Deborah Parker, journalism instructor at La Pine High School (Oregon) and former chemistry teacher, recommended keeping these things in mind if pursuing the story:

How long has the chemistry teacher been on the job? When was the last time in-service time was provided for the teacher to inventory chemicals? Does the school provide for and follow the recommended storage practices (this requires special containers for acids, etc.) If the teacher is aware of hazards, has he/she requested support to deal with them? Has the support been provided?

Don’t simply trot down to the chemistry teacher and demand to search the cabinets. Research the issue with the help of Tompkins’ column. Show the science teacher or department head the Post Register and Boston Globe stories. Approach the story from a health and safety standpoint, not as an investigative exposé.

And let us know what you find

Jacky Hicks 

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Attend a workshop this summer

Summer. Sun bathing, relaxing in front of the TV, studying journalism at a summer institute….

Ok, so maybe journalism training isn’t the first thing that comes to
mind when you think of summer, but for the dedicated, those long
vacation months are the perfect time to fit in some hard-core
journalism practice.

The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund has compiled a list of summer workshops and courses
for high school students organized by state. (They have separate lists
for college students, high school teachers, and college professors).
Most of the courses are offered through the journalism programs of
state universities and cost between $200 and $500 dollars, although
there are some for less and others for much more. Average duration is a

It’s not sun bathing, but it looks good on the resume and is a great
way to make contacts and to get a feel for college-level journalism.
See what’s offered in your state.

– Jacky Hicks

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Hard to watch, but watch and learn

Al Tompkins’ March 14 Morning Meeting, “Learning from an expert in online video,” focuses on The Washington Post’s Travis Fox and his award-winning online photojournalism piece about the refugee crisis in Darfur. The column contains great lessons for up-and-coming video journalists, especially those with an international bent. The Darfur video is a must-see for everyone, though.

Tompkins writes about the piece:

“This is a story that utilizes silence and quiet moments to teach us something about what life is like in a refugee camp. I especially like the way Travis uses the shots of barren soil to transition from character to character. And his use of natural light is nothing short of spectacular.”

Look for these techniques as you watch the video.


– Jacky Hicks

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