The Importance of Journalism in Light of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting - National Council of Teachers of English
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The Importance of Journalism in Light of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting

This is the next post in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome




Last week was an important one for journalism. The myriad tragedies made many turn to the media for insight and analysis and it’s important to consider the role that scholastic journalism can play both in providing a space for students to explore tough issues, and for cultivating the critical literacy skills we’ve all needed to comprehend events like the Orlando shooting.

LGBTQ rights are now addressed more and more within school districts, as my own district recently experienced; but as progressive as some districts are, others remain hesitant to address and accept gay and transgender rights among youth.

Pascack Hills High School’s “Trailblazerprovided continuous coverage of our district’s Board of Education meetings as they approved a transgender policy that would give equal rights to LGBTQ students. They saw the passion to pass this policy, as well as the vehement opposition to the policy, and even witnessed a threat of political action against our district, should we ultimately approve the policy.

Our staff earned a lot of regional and national scholastic recognition this year, but this continuous coverage was undoubtedly my proudest moment as an adviser. Students had a topic they were passionate about and remained dedicated to informing the whole school and surrounding community about it; and although their unsigned editorial on the policy made their personal feelings on the matter clear, their news coverage of the policy remained unbiased.

Scholastic journalism provides an objective space where students can discuss gay and transgender rights. They can read about what’s happening to and within the LGBTQ community, as well as express their own concerns and opinions through editorials. Writing is cathartic, and considering the following statistics from Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth and Caitlin L. Ryan’s article on addressing LBGT topics in language arts curricula—writing may even be an essential outlet for the gay and transgender community:

  • “Only 18.5% of LGBT students surveyed in grades 6-12 reported having an LGBT-inclusive curriculum” (Kosciw et al., 2014).
  • “. . . 2-3.7 million children [are] currently being raised by LGBT parents” (Gates 2014).

Not only does scholastic journalism help inform and comfort students through the written word, but it also helps facilitate political and social change. John Pruitt, in his article “Heterosexual Readers in Search of Queer Authenticity through Self-Selected LGBT Novels,” said, “. . . these discussions can inspire both large-scale political action and less precarious face-to-face interpersonal interactions to affect social change.”

Political and social change, however, does not stop with gay and transgender rights. Gun laws have also been under heavy scrutiny in the past few years.

Journalism and thorough reporting help to bring incidents like these to light; they inform the public, help readers form their own opinions, and deepen understanding to combat stereotypes and build support for policy change.

“If you are an adviser and are looking for other ways to get your community involved in the conversation, encourage your staff to do the following:”

  1. Write an unsigned editorial. These are great for having staff members collaborate on an argumentative/persuasive piece.
  2. Create a poll. Polls can be created fairly easily on any Web platform, like WordPress. If your Web service does not offer this option, you can create polls on Twitter. Even better, link an article from your school’s website onto the poll or reference a school article that appeared in print.
  3. Have staff members go around the school to ask students, faculty, and administration to comment on the topic at hand. These can be published as a sidebar to a news article, filmed as a video, or recorded as a podcast.
  4. Create an infographic using Piktochart. This can be done with information about the topic or survey completed by staff and students regarding their opinions on the topic.

After tweeting about a student article and providing the link, invite readers to comment either below the article itself or on Twitter with the hashtag of your choice. For example, if you tweet about a student article regarding the Orlando nightclub shooting, ask students to share their thoughts on gun control laws using the hashtag #GunReformNOW.

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.