Today, I had a discussion about race with some of my broadcast students. We discussed how prejudice still exists even today, although it may not be as bad or as prevalent as it once was. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist, even subtly.
Race is still a very charged topic in this country and in many schools, despite the fact that we have an African-American president. And every school and every community is different. You need to know your community, its values and its racial issues. This is especially true if you teach yearbook.
As a high school journalism teacher, you need to understand the racial divides and past of your community to know where the hot button issues lie. Then it is your job to make sure your students treat every ethnic, racial and minority group with respect.
In yearbook, this is even more important, because a yearbook is not only about journalism. It is also part of the public face of the school, it is a treasured piece of the community’s history and it is a memory book for the students. It is not a place for controversy or prejudice.
The book may have to cover sensitive subjects should they become a part of the news events of the year on campus. Should this happen, regardless of the publication or broadcast, it is important for young journalists to have an understanding of proper ethical behavior and how prejudice can affect coverage.
1) Make sure to do your best to recruit a multicultural, multi-ethnic and diverse staff. This helps to put a face on groups that might be a small part of your campus. It humanizes it for other staff members.
2) Try to have a gender balance on your staff – or at least recruit for your weaknesses. At my school yearbook tends to draw more girls and broadcast more boys. So, we recruit to try to gain more in our weak area.
3) Teach your students to be inclusive. Make sure they reach out to ethnic minorities on their campus. At my school, this includes Anglos (Caucasians or European-Americans) since they are only seven percent of our student body. When choosing who to interview for “man on the street” subjects and other similar interview styles, make sure that all facets of your student body are included.
4) Teach your students not to show opinion or be judgmental when dealing with subjects that are controversial, including racial issues. But this also includes religion, sexual preference, abortion, death penalty, etc. These are issues that can inflame the community and hurt students if not handled properly. This does not mean never covering those issues, but it means that they must be handled with the highest standard of ethical behavior.
5) Train your photographers to be diverse when taking photos. Of course photos need to be taken of the stars of a sport, but that doesn’t mean you never shoot the bench. Make sure they are inclusive of all members of a group. When shooting the band at halftime, don’t just shoot the brass. There are woodwinds and percussion too. Diversity takes many forms when approaching different groups.
6) Students need to be grounded in the law. There are legal matters to understand when it comes to certain groups like special education students. They are legally protected and students need to know when it is appropriate to take photos of them and when it is not.
7) Finally, make sure that the journalism room is a place where students can feel safe to express an opinion without others making fun or shouting them down. Make it a place where all students know they will be heard as long as they are willing to show respect for others. Let the students know that you respect their feelings even if you don’t always agree with their opinions. And model for them the proper respect that they should show to others when they don’t agree with them.
As a teacher it is our place to help our students learn how to deal with the world of work that they will one day be a part of and those work places do not permit prejudice or discrimination. We owe it to them to model proper behavior and insist that they follow the rules of ethical journalism in our classrooms.
It basically comes down to cultivating a culture of respect in your classroom. Journalists are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But always, we must remember that our viewers and readers are part of the same community we are a part of. It is important to be respectful of every part of that community, because we can’t cover the news in a part of the community that we don’t show respect to.
Sometimes teaching ethical behavior is hard, but it is a must-do in journalism.