Cleveland students put journalism 'under the microscope' on Media Day
Last week, the normally quiet East Professional Center in Cleveland was buzzing with activity as 200 students thronged the halls, eagerly discussing what presentation they wanted to go to next.
Was it hearing from The Marshall Project’s Mark Puente about his life journey from truck driver to investigative journalist? Or from Ideastream Public Media’s own Rachel Rood and Drew Maziasz, who produce the "Sound of Ideas" about how to put together a live daily radio show?
The students and journalists were participating in the second Student Media Day conference at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I was there and helped to organize the event and it was a blast, just like last year.
The conference — meant to encourage students to explore careers in journalism and media — takes after the Journalism Days of the past put on by The Plain Dealer and others in the local news landscape.
It’s the brainchild of Lavora “Gayle” Gadison, CMSD’s social studies curriculum manager, who this year and last year put in a ton of work, along with a small team of dedicated staffers, to make it happen. My volunteer job this year and last was to help recruit local media professionals to come, and then to run around during the event to make sure the wheels didn’t fall off of anything.
We had great presenters. Shana Black, program manager for inclusive journalism at the Associated Press, kicked off the day as our keynote speaker, discussing the importance of increasing diversity in newsrooms. And Annie Nickoloff and some co-conspirators at Cleveland Magazine packed a crowd into their small classroom where they taught students the ins and outs of creating a magazine.
In addition to Rood and Maziasz, Ideastream was well-represented, with great presentations from reporters Anna Huntsman and Gabriel Kramer.
Students always come prepared with great questions and deep thoughts, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the event. As Puente put it on Twitter, "At times, they put me under the microscope."
In Anna’s class, students shared podcast ideas ranging from interviews with chess professionals about cheating in the sport to an in-depth look at the research and facts around therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs.
In another class, Aaliyah Abdul-Basit and Kayden Ferris, two of the students I work with as a volunteer on the Unsilenced Voices of CMSD blog, coached students to create and present their own headlines and got some impressive results. It’s telling that many of the students’ presentations revolved around gun violence in Cleveland and what’s being done about it.
I can’t praise Gadison enough for her commitment to staging the event. It’s funded by the Civics 2.0 initiative, which she also coordinates, and she’s told me on multiple occasions that it’s meant to be a testament to the importance of a free press to a healthy democracy.
Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that many of the students who attended don’t see a future for themselves in journalism. When I talk to my students who work on the blog — who are actively choosing to do journalism now — they say they hope to become a lawyer or a publisher or a computer programmer.
Journalism can be a hard and sometimes thankless job, the pay won't make you rich and the industry is still reckoning with the ways in which it has harmed communities of color with its practices. I think many of the presenters recognize these facts and were open with students about those challenges.
As Puente told me, for the industry to change, it needs people from different backgrounds coming aboard. It needs people from blue-collar backgrounds, for example, who didn’t necessarily go to college.
While being inquisitive, hard-working, insightful and a good communicator are all skills key to success in journalism, they’re also transferable to jobs in plenty of other industries.
I saw all of those qualities on display with students at Student Media Day. If events like this encourage even one student to give journalism a try, I think that's great. But I also believe they can play a small role in setting students up for future scuccess, regardless of the career they choose.
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