Thursday, February 28, 2008

Motown Blazes Way in Teen Journalism + The Environment

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How do you get urban teens interested in journalism? And to make it an even taller order – in environmental journalism, math and science?

We can all learn from what they’re doing in Detroit. The lessons drawn from the 3rd annual city-wide high school journalism conference (“Steroids, Makeup and Polar Bears: Journalism and the Environment”) that took place Wed. Feb. 27 read like a How To:

* First, invite some 200 DPS students and their journalism advisors/chaperones to take a day away from school
* Host the event at the very impressive Detroit Zoo, which has a great educational facility and interactive exhibits and an amazing array of guest ‘speakers’ from amphibians of all kinds to polar bears and arctic foxes
* Ask a group of high energy experts to organize and manage the program. In this case, vision and leadership came from committed people like Jim Detjen (director of Michigan StateUniversity’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism), Cheryl Pell (director of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association) and Emilia Askari of the Detroit Free Press
* Shape the agenda around topics that are relevant and news worthy to teen reporters, such as - steroids use, environmental justice, the dangers of make up, global warming and teen depression
* Invite local anchors like Carolyn Clifford and meteorologist Andrew Humphrey to provide truly inspirational opening remarks
* Ask eager young reporters like Chris Lau and Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press (who aren’t that far removed from high school themselves) to moderate sessions
* Oh, and finally have the whole thing piggyback on the steady coaching and nurturing of local talent by the likes of Erin Hill of the Detroit Free Press who heads the newspaper's inspired high school journalism initiative

Then add the energy, curiosity and giddiness of more than 200 high school students and you’ve got the mix for a winner. The high points of such an event are numerous but one stood out for me. At the end of his talk meteorologist Humphrey asked how many of the seniors in the audience were registered to vote. He then opened his bag and had voter registration forms distributed to all those that weren't.

Successful youth journalism programs like this are, after all, about much more than journalism alone. They're about inspiring young minds and opening up career possibilities but also about kick-starting interest in our communities and country and civic participation in our democratic society.

But what a great place to start.

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