Journalism, Teaching of

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Journalism in American secondary schools began at approximately the same time journalism programs appeared in colleges. The first known high school journalism class was in Salina, Kansas, in 1912. But student newspapers are not always tied to a class, so not surprisingly they appeared long before this date. The first recorded one, The Student Gazette, was handwritten by the students of William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia in June 1777. The first known printed school paper, The Literary Journal, was published at Boston Latin School on May 9,1829.

The growth of journalism as part of the high school curriculum became significant in the 1920s. By the mid-1920s a number of state and national organizations had been founded to support secondary school journalism teachers and publications advisers. During the ensuing half century, substantial interest grew in such organizations as the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, headquartered at Columbia University; the Quill and Scroll Society, an honorary organization of high school journalists at the University of Iowa; the National Scholastic Press Association, based at the University of Minnesota; and the Journalism Education Association, the only organization solely for teachers, which had several names and locations but in 1987 settled at Kansas State University.

Teachers indicate that support from such organizations is vital because a majority of journalism teachers have little specific media training and because keeping current in such a quickly changing field is difficult. Certification or licensing to teach journalism is not required at all in roughly half the states, and many others have only minimal formal academic demands, according to Marilyn Weaver of Ball State University, who conducted a 1993 survey reported in Death By a Cheeseburger (1994). By the end of the twentieth century, some states, such as Ohio and Oregon, offered licenses in Integrated Language Arts, which include journalism but require virtually no course work in it. The number one field of licensure among journalism teachers and advisers is English (80%). Journalism is next (26.2%), followed by social studies and speech or drama, according to respondents to a 1998 national survey reported by Jack Dvorak.

Because state requirements vary so greatly, voluntary "certification" became an option in 1990 when the Journalism Education Association launched its Certified Journalism Educator/Master Journalism Educator program. Although it is not designed to replace state licensure where it does exist, the JEA's program offers teachers a variety of ways to earn these designations and indicate their knowledge of the field, including combinations of course work, years in the classroom, tests, and projects. By 1998, 500 teachers had been named CJEs, and by 1999, 100 were MJEs.

Curriculum and Teaching Standards

Teachers tap into state and national organizations to get help with curriculum, which changed significantly in the late twentieth century. Journalism programs range from those that offer English credit and allow students a variety of choicesfrom Journalistic Writing to Newspaper Production to Photojournalismto those with only a yearbook staff meeting after school. However, a 1998 national study of the status of journalism in the nation's high schools revealed that nearly 97 percent of them have at least one media-related activitya journalism course for credit, a yearbook, a newspaper, a newsmagazine, or a television or radio station. More than 77 percent of the journalism educators who participated in the survey reported that at least one journalism class was offered at the school. About 90 percent of the schools offered a media laboratory for student journalists who work on newspaper, yearbook, or broadcast facilities. Projected onto the high school population in the United States, these percentages mean that about 453,576 students were enrolled in a course called "Journalism," and nearly half a million students served on school media staffs in the late 1990s, as estimated by Dvorak's research.

Course objectives and curriculum vary widely, but by the 1980s, teachers groups worked to emphasize the academic respectability of journalism. Some administrators who grew up in an era when high school publications were filled with jokes and puzzles question the educational value of the course. To combat this, the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund launched a project that offered workshops on various university campuses to train teachers for Intensive Journalistic Writing courses at their schools. The high school students in the classes they taught then took the College Board's Advanced Placement English Language and Composition Examinations. Results since then have shown a higher percentage of journalism students than Advanced Placement English students passing the examination. This result motivated a group of JEA officers and college journalism educators to ask the College Board to create a course and corresponding test for Advanced Placement Journalism. By 2002 the College Board had surveyed educators at both the high school and college levels and was considering this.

Standards. National standards for journalism became a concern in the 1990s. Since so many programs are part of the English curriculum, a group of educators sought to show the parallels between the two disciplines. Standards for the English Language Arts, published in 1996 by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, established twelve standards for all language arts courses "to ensure that all students are knowledgeable and proficient users of language." By 2002, NCTE Standards in Practice as They Apply to Journalism presented a series of lesson plans and vignettes to illustrate the way media and media-related projects also help teachers meet these standards.

In 2001 a committee of high school and college educators began developing national standards for journalism teacher education. Basing its work on newly created standards from Indiana, Michigan, and Kansas, the group prefaced its national standards with the following: "Educators who teach secondary school journalism must have a broad range of knowledge and performance abilities. Although their courses are frequently placed in a school's English Department, their teaching responsibilities go beyond what most English or language arts curriculum requires. Therefore, these standards reflect their need to be skilled in teaching writing, listening, speaking, leadership skills, cooperative processes, press law and ethics, and media design and production. The combination of these helps them prepare their students as knowledgeable media producers and consumers who are essential to our democracy."

An increasing amount of support for high school journalism came from the professional press in the late 1990s. Such groups as the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and the Newspaper Association of America, which had sponsored programs for more than twenty years, were joined by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which funded university training for more than 200 teachers each summer, and the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, seeking to help advisers of all electronic media forms.

Digital and Electronic Media in the Curriculum

The media that students study and produce shifted dramatically with the growth of digital technology in the 1990s, and teachers found the changes challenging. Instead of typing articles and pasting them on large sheets of paper as their predecessors did, students began using computers. First this was just for word processing, but soon research tools included email for communication and the Internet for information gathering. Meanwhile, production switched to desktop publishing with specialized software and graphics programs, scanners, and digital cameras. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, students at a growing number of schools were creating online publications with timely updates of breaking news, reader response capabilities, and even video and audio clips of local events. Some student staffs collaborated with schools across town, across the country, or around the world to write related articles and share photos from events that would interest a wide teen audience.

In the 1990s many schools across the country found ways to acquire free broadcast equipment, so launching television stations became an option, as well. While some students merely delivered morning announcements, others hosted talk shows and created in-depth video packages for weekly viewing on area cable channels. Student-managed electronic media nearly doubled between 1991 and 1998.

Law and Ethics

A final area of concern for journalism educators has been law and ethics. In 1974 the Robert F. Kennedy Commission produced Captive Voices: The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism. Among the findings of the 22-member commission was the extent of censorship in high school media: "(S) tudent rights are routinely denied, with little or no protest of the students." One result of the Commission was the formation of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C. The SPLC is an advocate for student free-press rights and provides information, advice, and legal assistance at no charge to students and the educators who work with them. More than 2,000 of them contact the SPLC each year to get advice and support in producing media that allows free student expression and teaches journalism students the rights and responsibilities they have in a democracy.

Concern that student journalists were not learning about the First Amendment and how to apply it in their programs led a coalition of media organizations to launch the Let Freedom Ring Award in 2000. The Journalism Education Association, National Scholastic Press Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Quill and Scroll, and the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center developed a program to recognize and applaud schools that support all parts of the First Amendment in their student publications and their teaching.

See also: English Education, subentries on Preparation of Teachers, Teaching of; Journalism Education Association; Language Arts, Teaching of; Secondary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of; Writing, Teaching of.


Dvorak, Jack; Lain, Larry; and Dickson, Tom. 1994. Journalism Kids Do Better. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication.

Dvorak, Jack. 1998. "Journalism Student Performance on Advanced Placement Exams." Journalism and Mass Communication Educator 53 (3):412.

The Freedom Forum. 1994. Death By Cheeseburger: High School Journalism in the 1990s and Beyond. Arlington, VA: The Freedom Forum.

Nelson, Jack, ed. 1974. Captive Voices: The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism. New York: Schocken Books.

internet resource

Dvorak, Jack. 1998. "Status of Journalism and News Media in the Nation's Secondary Schools." Website of Indiana High School Journalism Institute, Bloomington, IN. <>.

Candace Perkins Bowen

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