URBAN MEDIA PROJECT: increasing diversity and connecting to the community
By Donna Griffin
Founder and CEO Griffin Media + Publishing
MJE, Student Media Adviser Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Director, Urban Media Project
There is a real reason the First Amendment is at the top of the Bill of Rights.
And I believe if we get complacent or cautious about teaching young people how to use both the creativity and power of the Five Freedoms, our democracy is in jeopardy. This white paper is a call to action to take back the First Amendment in our journalism classrooms through the Urban Media Project, a non-profit initiative of Dani’s Dreams Innovation in Education Corp. and a road map to increase diversity and connect to the local community.
What is unique about Urban Media Project (UMP) is that we connect diverse students to their communities and empower them through:
- Innovative hands-on media creation programs, such as “Speak Your Truth” magazines, and community multimedia discussions
- Internships and mentor opportunities – as coaches in a sports media camp or leaders and role models in media creation projects
As a journalist and educator for the last 37 years, my focus has been preparing my students for the next step, the real world of college and career.
Here are the skills that the U.S. Dept. of Education says students need to be globally competitive: critical thinking, multimedia communication, collaboration and complex problem-solving.
All these skills are embedded in UMP programs – which give kids the chance to create, explore and discover with THEIR ideas, using THEIR voice, in THEIR communities.
Usually when schools think about technology, they think in terms of equipment – but the integration of that technology and empowering our youth are the keys to students’ successes.
Check out the following links to see the Urban Media Project’s Speak The Truth in action:
Check out our website, www.danisdreamscorp.org and our Facebook pages, @danisdreamsinnovationineducationcorp and @urbanmediaprojectindy and my twitter, @nanadonnag
TAKING BACK THE FIRST AMENDMENT
By Donna Griffin, MJE
Journalism has been the common thread in my career that has spanned now four decades, and thanks to a profession that is changing at warp speed, I believe the best is yet to come.
It’s always about the next story and reaching the next student, or as H.L. Mencken said, “I know of no human being who has a better time than an eager and energetic young reporter.”
Now thousands of students and hundreds of publications later, I truly believe journalism has come full circle. First it was a group of elite radicals using the power of the press to create a new country, to the mass media created by the industrial revolution; newspaper mergers and smaller papers gobbled up by conglomerates, then TV/cable news, the arrival of computers, internet, phones, apps, Siri, Alexa, etc.
“Newspapers are dying,” the experts said. “Journalism is antiquated, get more technical education and find a lucrative field while you can.”
That was less than 15 years ago. Now, I see at least 8-20 journalism jobs on my email each week.
What I was teaching two decades ago and what I am teaching now is exactly the same – only the tools have changed. I’ve spent the second half of my career justifying why students should take my journalism and student media classes, raising funds for equipment and trips and giving my students an opportunity to be published, which often puts me at odds with administrators. As a journalist and educator – I’ve had battles with those in power – I’ve been thrown out of superintendent’s offices, had my bosses question my decisions, or the use of a quote and yes, been threatened with job loss. I always pushed the boundaries or as fellow Indianapolis Public Schools graduate and author, Kurt Vonnegut said, “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
I was taught and continue to teach my students NOT to play it safe, to chase the horizon and defy expectations and above all, hold tight to principles and freedoms.
But in the last decade, I’ve seen a disturbing trend. More than 10 years ago, a poll showed most young people don’t know their First Amendment rights. What’s more frightening is that they don’t even believe those freedoms matter.
Why? Because their First Amendment rights are being constricted by budgetary, equity and access issues, and it is not about dress code, Title IX or test scores. The lack of student media programs accessible to inner city public high school and students of color has created a culture of apathy, distraction and belligerence that has left journalism teachers and advisers on the front lines of a battle between remaining employed and standing firm for students’ press rights.
You can’t teach student media from a book or totally in a classroom. It’s not only about access to technology and the pursuit of excellence, it’s about the process, the hopes, the goals and knowing that you are connecting with others and sharing factual information that affects the larger community.
So much of students’ lives is focused on consuming, responding, considering and creating media, then why is that suddenly subversive when it takes place in the classroom? Students will view violence around them on their phones a minute after it took place, but when there is a school-sanctioned discussion about safety, coverage of the event is considered negative and sensationalized?
This is the systemic pressure that it brought to bear on both advisers and students without First Amendment protections and it has led to the demise of student media in many inner city and minority schools. Not too many journalism teachers can afford to jeopardize their jobs by deliberately putting their students’ Freedom of Press rights first.
Yet the further journalism programs stray from First Amendment, they lose strength and clarity.
In February, 2018 Indiana New Voices legislation to protect high school and college journalists’ Freedom of Press rights failed for the second year to get a majority of votes needed to advance to the Senate.
“Moral victories are great and all, but they don’t determine the First Amendment climate in the state of Indiana, and unfortunately, that climate is toxic,” said Ryan Gunterman, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association in an article on the Student Press Law Center’s website.
The myth is that students are the ones who must fight for their First Amendment rights because advisers face administrative sanctions and even job loss if they defend their students’ responsible use of Freedom of the Press. And if you are in a poor, urban, majority-minority district, then the challenges are ratcheted up.
If Hazelwood considerations take priority over students’ perspectives and viewpoints, then it’s not long before student journalists opt out if they feel like no one is taking their voices into account.
The First Amendment only becomes relevant when it is put into practice (Colin Kaepernick and March for Our Lives.) Yes, these actions bring attention for a time, but without a legal foundation and support from the people who are supposed to be the role models and keepers of the faith, professional media and journalism organizations, any change is simply symbolic.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and deprecate agitation … want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning,” said Frederick Douglass more than 160 years ago.
UMP – THE GENESIS
UMP was born out of my experiences living in El Paso, Texas and becoming a journalism teacher midway through my professional career. My students became my best teachers and their experiences as we traveled throughout the country attending NSPA conventions are the main reason for this initiative. Back during the end of the 20th century and the start of the millennium, my students and I navigated massive changes in journalism and this nation, covering them with innovation, sensitivity and skill – the 2000 election’s hanging chads, 9/11, Columbine, the Gulf Wars, immigration, and standardized testing to name a few. Several of my staff have remained integral parts of UMP as we work to scale our efforts.
As media changed, so did my approach to student work. After we had a training period, I effectively handed my editors “the keys” and they were in charge. I did not make assignments, the editors did; each student generates story ideas, makes a pitch and then follows the design process. Student editors run news meetings, edit copy, design pages, market and promote their publications.
At the heart of UMP’s mission is empowerment, diversity and even more important, equity. In El Paso my students were majority Hispanic, in Indianapolis Public Schools, my students are majority African American. As a journalism educator over the past 20 years, I’ve seen little change in the demographics at high school student conventions and special events. My students are often the only people of color in attendance. We really haven’t really made a dent in diversity and without a change at the high school level, there will be no improvement in professional newsrooms.
According to its website, the American Society of News Editors believes that diverse newsrooms better cover America’s communities. In 1978, the association challenged the news industry to achieve racial parity by 2000 or sooner and released the results of its first annual newsroom employment census. Over three decades, the annual survey has shown that while there has been progress, the racial diversity of newsrooms does not come close to the fast-growing diversity in the U.S. population as a whole.
There is a growing gap between the use of technology and media in the daily lives of inner city young people and the opportunities to develop these critical thinking, judgment and technical career preparation skills through student media opportunities independent of school administrators’ control.
Nearly a decade ago, I was lucky to be able to listen to Jack Dvorak, 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 than 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 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, digital and broadcast media 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.
Many of these young people 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 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.
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
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
My number one tip for media teachers and advisers is to realize that speaking your truth is not what will divide this country; it is what connects us – remember E Pluribus Unum?
Journalists, even and maybe especially at the high school level, are a breed apart. I still keep a graphic in my classroom with a quote coined by a former editor-in-chief: “We’re not human beings, we’re journalists.” It’s our inspiration. Most of the time, my inner-city high school journalists don’t fit. We’re the loud annoying ones, asking “why?”out of the classroom, mics in your face, staying late after school, crunching on Flaming Hot Cheetos and wolfing down Ramen on a regular basis. Is it any wonder administrators don’t quite know what to do with us? Especially in a district where budget deficits, funding pressures and low test scores force massive change in organization, staff and programs nearly every year.
It’s not about access to technology, or money or data. There is a process to writing; it’s not the same for each person, but there is commonality in the end result.
It’s about about motivating students to believe in themselves. It’s all about soul – what made people like John Peter Zenger and Colin Kaepernick fight the same, seemingly innocuous, annoying battle 300 years apart. I caught a glimpse of it recently when in a round table discussion a student had the guts to say, “We need to feel welcomed here, what’s with all these rules?” Or another who said, “It’s harder than ever to be heard, to understand what is happening because there is so much information coming at us.”
First Amendment and news literacy should be key components of school curriculum at every level, not a poor second to PE, computer programming or music classes. News Literacy Project’s Checkology.org and PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs projects are journalistically based with a perspective relevant to media consumers and creators.
I’ve obtained the best journalism teaching tips from my students’ insights that have formed the bedrock of my student media curriculum:
THE REAL 5W’s AND THE H
- WHO wants to read this – do I? — If you don’t, find a reason.
- WHAT do I need to do to make it real and interesting? — What is different, unique?
- WHEN will the reader stop reading? — That is when you stop writing.
- WHERE is the most important information? — It should be the first thing in the story.
- WHY am I writing this story? — Answer this question and you find your main idea and the way to hook the reader in.
- HOW can I show, rather than tell, what the story really is? – Avoid opinion and second person writing – use description and quotes.
SHOW THE STORY
USE description and quotes don’t say someone is great, outstanding, exciting, emotional, ugly – let your words and description set the scene
DETAILS. . .DETAILS. . .DETAILS
This year with a move to an International Baccalaureate (IB) high school, I am now able to claim a STEM class as a design teacher.
Actually the design process is the same as I learned from Cincinnati Enquirer training editor Michael Roberts back in 2001 at the first ASNE High School Journalism Institute:
Inquiry/Idea: (Observations, news values: Is it local? Is it relevant? Is it timely? Does it have conflict, different points of view? Human interest, impact?)
Developing/Reporting: (Interviewing, researching, determining credible sources)
Creating/Drafting (Outlining, chunking, transition/quote format)
Evaluating/Revising (At least twice)
I operate my student media classes as a newsroom – there are assigned roles: reporter/writer; photographer/videographer, designer, marketers; they track assignments and progress through Weekly Deadline Forms.
Editors and experienced staff members are mentors and coaches. I guide them in the story construction process.
We start with a pitch assignment and then follow the media creation design cycle above and a rubric based on the IB grading system.
The reward is being a part of UMP community projects.
UMP is an independent media education program run by my nonprofit, Dani’s Dreams Innovation in Education Corp. that provides hands-on experiences for K-12 students as media creators and mentors – former students in college and young professionals work as interns or volunteers for our camps and our media creation projects.
At the core is telling the story and to recognize that the process is definitely not a solitary endeavor. It’s about connecting to your audience, to your peers and to the community – being a part of a larger mission.
Our Speak Your Truth session is a prime example.
UMP has conducted Speak Your Truth events at IHSPA, BSU J-Day and NSPA conventions. My coaches presented the Kennedy-King speech in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech and led small group discussions and then group presentations that were taped and presented on the UMP website and in the Speak Your Truth magazine produced in June 2018.
College and young professionals mentored middle school students at the “In the Mind of an Athlete” sports media camp at the Boner Community Center in Indianapolis and high school students at the Upward Bound summer program at IUPUI.
Over the course of the last six years, Urban Media Project has evolved and persevered and young people never fail to impress me with their insights, ingenuity and inspiration they bring to others.
UMP: THE SOLUTION
UMP is an independent media creation organization designed to train young journalists in underserved communities. Urban Media Project is a vibe, a beat, giving our kids a purpose – to question, to discover, to create. By empowering our youth to use their technology, leadership, marketing and media skills, we can create the next generation of involved, interactive citizens. UMP journalists produce:
- Quarterly newspapers/news magazines for their communities funded through grants and support from local media and businesses
- Student-produced multimedia projects and productions with college and professional journalism mentors. University-level topics course for training mentors.
- Community interviews and events – student-led and mentorship focused, such as our “Speak Your Truth” discussions based on the novel, “The Hate U Give.”
- Special book series for UMP events and curriculum, including the graphic novel, “The Birth of The First Amendment” that launched in November 2019. This is a collaboration with former Indianapolis Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel.
The story of John Peter Zenger’s trial, “The Birth of the First Amendment” is full of drama, suspense and a timely message that speaks directly to current discussion, especially among young leaders whose voices are resounding throughout this country.
Now we are back to the beginning, in the midst of a technological and information revolution, with an elite group of millionaires controlling mainstream media with diverse voices lost in the cacophony of political and social divisions that are dissolving this nation’s sense of community.
It’s time for newspapers – for the power of the printed word
You cannot separate the First Amendment from its constant core journalistic principles: accuracy, objectivity, fairness, responsibility, leadership and community service.
This is what is lacking from many media organizations nowadays – The First Amendment. News. Facts. A foundation of common information for citizens to make decisions.
“Newspapers learn, they report, they write and then publish,” Ben Bradlee said in his memoir, “A Good Life.“ “Editors decide.”
No matter how high-speed, high-definition or high-resolution images and text appear, the entire web is essentially ephemeral – just a whisper.
We need more newspapers, because words on paper are a shout – they have power.
The power to build a nation.
The power to unite generations.
The power to change lives.
To collaborate or support the Urban Media Project, contact founder and director Donna Griffin, firstname.lastname@example.org 317-640-4430