The student news site of Grand Center Arts Academy, St. Louis, MO
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How to be a student journalist: reaching success as a writer

March 29, 2017

GCAAtoday Editor-in-Chief Jerell McCole (right, in hoodie) joins media professionals from St. Louis Public Radio and KMOX during a Sept. 4, 2015 press conference about a newly formed teacher union. 
As a parent representative, Katie Belisle-Iffrig, responds to questions about the union from a new point of view. She showed support for the teachers and their unionization. Belisle-Iffig is a founding parent at GCAA and is the mother of Sophie Iffrig, 10th grade, and Emma Iffrig, 12th grade.

Ivy Beckenholdt

GCAAtoday Editor-in-Chief Jerell McCole (right, in hoodie) joins media professionals from St. Louis Public Radio and KMOX during a Sept. 4, 2015 press conference about a newly formed teacher union. As a parent representative, Katie Belisle-Iffrig, responds to questions about the union from a new point of view. She showed support for the teachers and their unionization. Belisle-Iffig is a founding parent at GCAA and is the mother of Sophie Iffrig, 10th grade, and Emma Iffrig, 12th grade.

On September 25th, 1690, the first newspaper, Publick Occurences, Both Foreign and Domestick, was printed in Boston, written by Richard Pierce and edited by Benjamin Harris. This was the first news outlet that allowed the writer to be able to explain current events. However, the paper was suppressed by Boston authorities after one issue. After this spark of events, the Boston News-Letter was America’s first continuously published newspaper due to it’s refined detail about English politics, European wars, and daily news you would see on TV or the internet today. There are various types of media platforms and ways to deliver news to an audience. As a high school journalist, you must know how to use these outlets effectively and efficiently in order to have success when informing or entertaining the public eye, whether it be teachers, parents, or even your peers. This step-by-step outline will have you on the right track so that you can be aware of your rights, audience, thought process, and surroundings as you work towards a final draft, waiting to be published.

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Know the basics and foundations of journalism; identify the rules of ethics and your freedoms.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of free expression and action that are fundamental to the freedoms of student journalists. This protects students from censorship, or doubtfulness that might come from their audience. There are five principles of journalism that are crucial to the student as they write and report. The first principle is Truth and Accuracy. This is the most obvious because people would typically think, “The truth always has to be reported, right?”. Yes, the truth always has to be reported, even if it takes extreme time and effort. Fact checking is a process to help ensure your information is accurate. In order to do this, talk to your sources to make sure you understand so there is no misinterpretation, and double check statistics so your analysis matches original reports. The second principle refers to the Independence of the student, and how to have a voice that speaks to the audience. This will be explained in more detail in the following steps. The third step explains the significance of Fairness and Impartiality, or how there should be two sides to a story. This helps students steer away from bias or favoring of one side. The tone of a news story should remain objective or balanced so that the news is the primary focus. Not only do the principles consist of academic guidelines, but also give students a glimpse of being personable while interviewing and writing. The fourth principle is Humanity, which is being aware of the impact their words and images can have on the lives of others. Student journalists should be empathetic so they are able to communicate with their sources in a personable manner. The final principle of journalism is Accountability, in which students need to listen to the audience, and make an effort to suffice their desires. Holding yourself accountable also implies that students must fix errors, and will provide remedies when the reader is not pleased.

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How to get training and experience in the journalism field: getting informed and involved.

Now that you have the basic foundation of rules and guidelines that journalists must follow, it is time to seek out a class involving yearbook, online news, multimedia, or even editorial leadership. Once you successfully find a class, you are now equipped to start writing. However, you must work carefully so that you can find your niche, or how you want to tackle a certain piece of writing. In order to do this, reach out and talk to your editors first, and then your advisor so that they are aware of your assignment. If you are new to a journalism class or the school as a whole, reach out to as many people as possible to familiarize yourself with your peers. Another alternative is even looking through yearbooks, studying names and grades. Your editors will be your guide and saving grace through the class so that you stay on track, as they provide reassurance and guidance through the interviewing and writing process. As far as gaining experience, you simply do this by writing and interacting with others. You have to start somewhere, and that will be your entrance to student media. Take your editor’s’ advice and act on it, because this is your training. Another way to receive any additional training is to attend any journalism or media workshops, conferences, or programs. To enrich your skills in the classroom, there are various programs you can apply for by simply doing some research, but make sure you have a few ideal examples of writing you have published, to submit so officials can see what you have done thus far. On your own time, there are also books, documents, blogs, columns, and speeches about creating good journalism, or what it means to inform others. Do some research and take careful note on these resources because they are there to provide you with all the help you need. The only way to have experience is by putting yourself out there in the real world, even if it is just interviewing a teacher you have never talked to. By doing this, you are essentially training yourself more and more each time you do it.

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Communicate effectively and interact with new people.

As a journalist, communication is the most significant part of your job. Whether it be asking follow up questions, asking editors or your advisor for help, or even interviewing people. You have to be clear and explicit with what you are saying to people so there is no misinterpretation. This is where things can get tricky, so make sure you get your point across when talking to different people. If you do not understand what another person is saying, it is crucial that you double check so that you can accurately report facts and quotes. In addition, another important part of communication is not only keeping up to date with people in person, but also checking email, text messages, and any other apps used in class. This is significant because it keeps you, as the reporter consistently informed with fresh information every day. If someone reaches out to you in an effort to ask a question, or to get clarification, answer them as soon as you can. This also improves the status of credibility because the audience will see that you are responsible and reliable. The audience puts a large amount of trust when reading an article, assuming that it is accurate and truthful. Communicating effectively is the key in making sure that this is regularly practiced. No matter how busy you may be or what other people say, always double check to make sure the communication with others is consistent and proper.

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Step out of your comfort zone when put in any situation in or out of the classroom.

As communication may be very difficult for some people due to shyness or lack of confidence, this is where stepping out of your comfort zone comes into play. You must be willing to try new things, talk to new people, and be open-minded about the subject at hand. If the person you are interviewing picks up signals that you are introverted and uncomfortable, they start to get uncomfortable as well. This results in poor explanations and may not consist of the whole truth. The fact of the matter is, if you are dedicated to being a student journalist, you must express it. What better way to show it than becoming a better person and breaking boundaries? Jamie Smith, Global Chief Communications Officer from The BitFury Group said, “Life is short, run with the stuff you’re good at, drop the rest,” This quote is significant to your role because if you are good at telling a story, share it with the rest of the school, or even the world. You can step out of your comfort zone by taking time for YOU to make decisions, trusting your instinct, believing in your abilities, and taking things in small, precise steps. Take risks and interview someone you haven’t even met. Write an editorial on a controversial topic and state your argument clear and appropriately. By stretching your limits and expanding new horizons, journalism becomes more exciting and engaging to the audience as a whole. Seeking out new people, locations, ideas, perspectives, opinions, and actions is what you should be doing in the process of putting yourself in the limelight. It’s okay if it is difficult at first, as it is for most people. You are learning, just as professionals are, so do not be intimidated. Confidence is essential in this process as well because you are also learning about your skills as a student. When you are assigned a story, write about it as you are the expert. Everyone who reads it will look to you for answers, so be ready to tackle any questions with courage. After all, you are the one who has done research and talked with multiple sources. You are the writer so you make the call on what the audience is reading. The power is in your hands, so utilize your resources and use it effectively.

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The assignments, the deadlines, the questions, the staff – everything the editorial board must manage.

If you are considering becoming part of the editorial board or are already part of it, here are a few things that can help guide you as this job can get chaotic at times. First off, you have to go from wanting to change, to deciding to change, which means taking action. What makes you feel the happiest is what you should be doing. After you have made yourself comfortable, other traits or tips that are crucial to being an editor include prioritizing and time management, facing problems and working them out in an appropriate manner, having extreme patience, and learning from your staff. Again, step outside of your comfort zone, especially while being in this position as a leader and example for the rest of the staff to emulate. Educate, inspire, and get to know different people. Take your job seriously, invest in yourself, invest in your time, and most importantly, invest in others in order to have success as a leader guiding a staff member.

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The final step in the writing process: edit, revise and the finish the piece to be published.

In this last step, it is now time to  look over your interviews, research, and written piece that you and the editors can cooperate to improve the story as a whole. Make sure spelling, grammar, and punctuation are accurate. Double check that you have all the right quotes, names, organizations, titles, and dates correct. When revising, put yourself in the position of the reader and ask yourself, “Is the main point clear? What evidence helps support it? How does this affect me as a person?” The answers to all these questions should be answered in your final draft. Once you and your editors have made these edits and revisions, your piece is now polished to where the Editor-in-Chief can now publish your story for a real audience to view.

You have now completed the process of writing a story, however this is just one way to get your foot in the door as a high school journalist. If these rules and guidelines are followed and reflect in your work, you will thrive in your job as a writer. Not only will it improve your writing skills, but also your networking and communication skills. Keep a positive outlook even if you do not yet see a light at the end of the tunnel. It will soon appear if you are committed to your role with an open mind, ready for fresh ideas.     


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