Quick! What Are 5 Most Important Things High School Journalists Should Know?

BY JASON AKST, NIU Department of Communication, NINA Executive Secretary

  • Editor’s Note: A few weeks back, Jason Akst asked fellow journalists the not-so-rhetorical question: What would you say to high school students about journalism in the next 10ish years? Surprisingly, data scraping, video and analytics did not make the list of too many professional journalists. Here’s what they had to say:

Jon Whitney, Carroll County Review:

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 4.46.57 PM
Jon Whitney (CREDIT:

First, let’s forget technology because we can’t change that. All we can do is roll with the changes and still be prepared to produce quality news stories.

  1. Learn how to write succinct, correct sentences that communicate with no ambiguity.
  2. Learn how local government works, particularly where and how money to fund local government comes from. In other words, learn how real estate taxes are assessed and collected and how the assessment process works.
  3. Understand the local and state election process. It’s very important to write correctly about what is perhaps the most fundamental of all governmental functions. By this I don’t mean just name the candidates for office. Be prepared to describe in detail the process for a citizen to become a candidate. Understand why this is necessary and how the process works.
  4. Always double check your sources. Always proofread your material before submitting it.
  5. Always provide attribution. I know it sounds simple, and it is, but too often reporters fail to do that and plow ahead with misinformation or repeating false information or worse, their opinion.
  6. I know this is one too many, but keep personal opinion out of your stories.

Editor and famed writer Michael Romkey says:

Michael Romkey
Michael Romkey (CREDIT: Twitter)
  1. Prepare to be nimble. Local and regional journalism, as it has been practiced in newspapers, and on televisions and radio stations, is undergoing tectonic disruption. There are no certainties or every even likelihoods about delivery systems or career paths in the future. There’s a lot of great reporting, writing and analysis being done today, much of it online at places like Medium and Quillette, and much of done by people for little or no direct compensation.
  2. Journalism is an art, not a craft, so familiarize yourself with the masters. I’m talking about people like Mencken, Tom Wolfe, Joan Dideon, Twain, Orwell, George Plimpton, Hunter S. Thompson, and sportswriters like Red Smith and Frank Deford.
  3. Aim high. The economy has many jobs for middling accountants, salespeople, civil engineers, lawyers, teachers and shopkeepers. Alas, there are few jobs for people with a passion for making sense of the world and then explaining it in prose in a way that will edify, entertain and sometimes amaze the general population. And the job market for people of that sort is shrinking, in some instances dramatically.
  4. Be curious. If you don’t want to find the secret door that allows you a look at the inner workings of things, you’re thinking about the wrong career.
  5. Make your own luck. Persevere to the point of being relentless. There is no easy way to succeed as a journalist or a writer, yet some do.

Matt Trowbridge, Rockford Register Star:

Matt TowbridgeThe No. 1 thing is they need to be able to think outside of the box and come up with creative story ideas.

Try to tell a story that no one else is telling. That’s how you make a difference.

Sharon Boehlefeld, The Observer:

At a basic level, they should know how to write clear sentences.

Boehlefeld.jpgThey should practice interviewing people until coming up with questions on the spot is easy.

They should take as many classes in business as they can. It will help them understand not only the business of journalism, but also budgets they’ll encounter in government.

They should also take at least one statistics course to understand data and how to interpret it properly.

Having said that, they should also let other people be experts. Journalists should help ordinary people understand the world, then let them make their own decisions about it.

Barry Schrader, columnist and former Daily Chronicle editor:

barry schrader characature.jpgTell them if we don’t stop electing morons who only believe fake news on Fox News Network there won’t be any REAL newspapers left to work on.

In that case they won’t need any more advice

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