Covering your school can be one of the most difficult challenges you will ever face as a teacher or student of journalism/media. When you do coverage of your school for the yearbook, newpaper, broadcast, etc. you must try to maintain fairness and balance for all groups.
Now some people will say that you must cover all groups equally. This isn’t true and is actually not fair to those groups that are larger. We try to look at several factors when deciding who to interview, how many to interview and how to keep variety in the coverage of our school.
First, balanced coverage is more than just avoiding stereotypes, although that is important too. It is striving to cover every group in the school and giving them a voice based on their proportion within the school. With this in mind, the first thing we do is get a demographic breakdown of our school by race, grade (age) and gender. This gives us a basic starting point to look at how many students belong to these different groups. In the yearbook, this is especially effective. We look at double page spreads when they are in the final stage of editing. During that time, we look at all the photos on the page and try to decide if we are over or under representing a certain group. We especially want to make sure that small groups (minorities) are represented and that the gender and grade balance is not off by too much. I use the word minority to mean a small group, because at my school white or Anglos are one of the minorities. At many schools this is not the case.
Second, weed out gender other stereotypes that are sexist or racist. Replace gender specific words like fireman with fire fighter. Here’s a great list.
Third, this one will sound strange, but it works – show preference to large groups of students within your school, but don’t ignore small groups. What this means is that if we have to choose between covering the dance department’s show and the agriculture fair for our next broadcast show – then we go with the dance show. The reason is simple, there are more than 150 girls involved in dance at my school and around two dozen kids in ag. Both broadcasters and print publications must decide how to maximize their viewer ship. In a perfect world, you would cover both events. But sometimes space, time, equipment or staff limitations will prevent it. When you must choose, go with the numbers. If you miss the ag fair, try to make it up to them with a feature the next week.
Finally, remember that balance is not always possible. At our school some of the sports teams are dominated by certain ethnic groups. This is stereotypical, but it is not anything that we can control. The soccer team is mainly Hispanic for example. And all sports teams are grouped by gender, except tennis, golf and swimming.
Just be aware of how important gender, race and other groupings are to your student body and their parents. Just by thinking about it and trying to ensure fairness, you will have improved the coverage of the media at your school.
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