Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News Literacy: “We Need to Be Teaching This”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Professor Lyn Millner of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) reflects on a Nov. 2 news literacy workshop for high school educators. With a McCormick grant, FGCU is carrying out a news literacy program that helps connect classrooms with journalists via video conferencing. Teachers nationwide can apply to participate in the program here: http://www.newsu.org/tools/face-face-conversations-journalists.

Our news literacy night for high school educators went very well. The upshot is that most of the educators plan to institute at least some of the concepts in their classes immediately. I also learned that the new Lee County School Superintendent would be very receptive to learning about how we're teaching news literacy at Florida Gulf Coast University.

I gave the educators an intro to news literacy—what it is and why it matters—using much of what's in Stony Brook's introductory lecture. I told them how our course has made a difference with students. 

The reaction from the high school teachers was overwhelmingly positive. Lots of nods and "we need to be teaching this." Nearly all of the teachers said they planned to begin integrating some of these lessons in their current classes. All were grateful for Stony Brook's course materials. (Thank you, Dean and Liz!)

Jennifer Reed, a teacher at South Fort Myers High School told me: “My kids are 18, they're about to go into the world, and it scares me [that they don't have news literacy skills]. Instead, we're teaching them texts such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.”

Our discussion naturally broadened to how FGCU's new journalism program can help the high schools in other areas of journalism. Journalism faculty member Rick Kenney led a discussion about specific skills we might address in a spring workshop for high school students. Rick is teaching Journalism & Society (our news literacy course) this year, along with writing, and media law and ethics.

In addition to high school educators, several community members attended, including Paula Sklodowski, an outreach person with WGCU public media; Byron Yake with Write-on Sports; Tony Majeri, retired from the Chicago Tribune and keenly interested in helping FGCU set up a summer high school journalism skills workshop; and David Steckler, on faculty at FGCU and working with Byron to start a middle-school program.

Lyn Millner, Assistant Professor, Journalism, Florida Gulf Coast University

Stay tuned for more updates on FGCU’s  work in news literacy education.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Prison: Reflections on the Exhibit of Chicago photographer Lloyd DeGrane

Monday, November 21, 2011

  • A wide angle view of the inner atrium of Stateville Correctional Center’s F House, the prison’s old roundhouse, with four floors of cells facing a central watch tower
  • The scarred face of an inmate who’s been knifed and shot to the skull. His claim to fame? He’s never gone down.
  • A display of weapons made by inmates on the premises.
  • An intimate portrait of an artist inmate, looking defiant but introspective, his painting of a black Jesus on the wall behind him.
These are some of the provocative images taken over a decade by Chicago photographer Lloyd DeGrane and now on display in a stunning exhibit at Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery. The exhibit includes letters that inmate Simon (“Sam G.”) Gutierrez wrote to DeGrane over the course of many years, detailing life in the prison. The pictures document how inmates are herded through a Chicago holding cell and moved to the Joliet receiving cell (“a parade of buses every Friday morning between 9-10 a.m. on Interstate 55 surrounded by state police cars”). Once inside, prisoners are shackled and assigned a state facility.
At the opening, DeGrane addressed the crowd.  A few takeaways:
  • As a photographer, he carried just one medium format camera and lens, a light tripod. He always asked permission and walked slowly, never moving fast, around the prison.
  • The prison environment stands out for its sounds (“People yelling, screaming, blurting things out.”) and the smells (“Human waste, sweat, blood, rotten food. The things that thousands of men leave behind.”)
  • This isn’t about an innocence project, or about the wrongfully convicted or unjustly sent to prison, DeGrane said.  These people were murderers, rapists, child molesters, all walking around with you. “This project is about the people you want to see locked up,” he said. “The people you don’t want to see late at night when it’s you and nobody else around.” 

DeGrane used data to illustrate the vastness of the prison system. The U.S. represents 5 percent of the world’s population, he said, but has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. There are now 2.25 million people behind bars, plus 5 million out on parole (“the equivalent of Chicago locked up, suburbanites on parole”).
He wants viewers to walk away with a better understanding of where their taxes are going. “I want you to know what happens behind the 32-foot wall, and of the journey that people – especially the poor – go through in these places.”

The exhibit is at 18 S. Michigan Avenue and will be up through Feb. 4, 2012. For more information, go to http://www.roosevelt.edu/GageGallery.aspx.

–Mark Hallett, senior program officer

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Dec. 2 Press Conference for High School Journalists at Roosevelt University

Friday, November 11, 2011

Great opportunity for a high school journalism students to practice their reporting skills and tour Roosevelt University's new building. Information about the event is below: 

Roosevelt University is currently building the second tallest university building in the country.  Our vertical campus in Chicago’s Loop will have dorm rooms for 633 students, classrooms, modern science laboratories, recreational facilities, a cafeteria, great views of the city, and much more.
Students working on their high school newspapers and their advisors are invited to attend a press briefing and tour this innovative new building which is certain to attract national attention when it opens for classes this August.

10:30 AM, Friday, December 2
Press Conference, Tour and Lunch
Roosevelt University
430 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

This is a great opportunity for students to participate in a press conference and private tour before the building is open to the public.  In addition, it will allow them to write about a new building which could benefit their classmates.

Reservations are required.

Please call 312-341-3510 with questions and to let us know who will attend.

We look forward to seeing reporters and editors on December 2.
Tom Karow, Assistant Vice President, Public Relations, Roosevelt University

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Town Hall Meeting: “Not Hiring: The Plight of Jobless Teens.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the middle of what some consider the harshest job environment for teenagers in the post-World War II period, a leading youth journalism program hosted a Nov. 2 town hall to engage elected officials, nonprofit groups, school leadership, and dozens of teens from across the city – in a spirited discussion to explore this complex issue.

Moderated by veteran journalist Laura Washington, the town hall navigated topics ranging from global shifts in where jobs are located to changes in government funding of workforce development, to the multiple ways that odds are stacked against teens and the on-the-ground reality of how they view the job hunt.

What stood out – besides the clear commitment of the adults in the room, was the resourcefulness and determination of the teen panelists.

As well as the difficulty of their plight.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the summer employment rate for teens age 16-19 was 30 percent in 2011. In 2000, the employment rate for that same age group nationally was 52 percent.

If anyone entered the discussion thinking that teen jobs are simply about having a little spending money, that idea was done away with in the Columbia Links video that opened the event. “I’m my own guardian – so I have to financially support myself,” a Chicago high school student told the assembly from the screen.

Panelists at the event included Jack Wuest, executive director for the Alternative Schools Network; Jhatayn Travis, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization; Anton Seals, senior associate for Congressman Bobby Rush; and Black Star Project founder and executive director Phillip Jackson.

Student panelists included Lincoln Park High School seniors Donnell McLachlan and Ashley Walker; Chevelle Blackburne, a senior at Kenwood Academy; and Natalia Yarbrough, a student at Richard J. Daley City College.

Also in the house were State Representatives Esther Golar and La Shawn K. Ford.

So how bad is the teen unemployment situation? Bad enough that some worry that a generation is losing the opportunity at that first job early in life.

The 17-24 year-old age group, Seals explained, is when you learn to be employed. “Not being employed can also become a habit after a while. This has been changing since 2007. Now we’re seeing so many teens unemployed, and even their parents can’t find jobs. For some it’s to provide for a family, for others to start a career.”

“Youth have been really hammered in the summer,’ said Wuest of the Alternative Schools Network. “The economy’s broken, and it’s also not employing millions of adults. Incomes have stayed the same or gone down. Corporations have found they can make money, and are sitting on trillions of dollars. But youth are hammered worse than other groups.”

“In the 60s and 70s, you could drop out of school and still get a job in a factory,’ he said. “But those jobs have been replaced by low-paying service jobs.”

What’s happened to support to teen employment initiatives, Washington asked KOCO executive director Travis. “There’s been substantial disinvestment in funding for youth employment initiatives over the past two decades,” she responded.

“Working has a profound impact on the quality of life for young people, but also for the overall quality of life of their communities,” she said. “Each year when it gets warmer and violence escalates again, there’s suddenly a movement to support youth employment. Let’s start earlier.”

Washington asked Jackson of The Black Star Project about the other issues at play influencing high teen unemployment. He takes a decidedly global perspective on it. “I’m out in the ‘hood, but also across the globe,’ he said. “When we were young, the US was a certain country. We’d beat down other countries to have an artificially high standard of living,’ he explained. “But that’s done. We absolutely cannot compete with the rest of the world that way. We must start in our community, in schools, and look into the economic stream, then things will work out.”

“There are 75 million young globally people without jobs,’ Jackson said. “That means that each of you is competing with 75 million other young people. If you expect someone to give you a job, it’s not going to happen. We need to be more holistic. Government is important, but this must be community driven.”

The students on the panel were impressive for their analysis, poise and resourcefulness. Several said that they feel it’s important to not get caught up in the short-term benefits of a low-wage job but to stay focused on long-term goals instead.

Donnell McLachlan of Lincoln Park HS said that he’s not looking for work right now, because he wants to focus more on his education. “I’m looking for internships in journalism. This is helping to set me up for a major.”

Teens seeking work compete not only with one another, but with many over-qualified adults looking for work. Other factors are stacked against them too. For example, Chicago’s new, stricter curfew law means that those under 17 cannot be outside or in a public place after 10 p.m. week nights and after 11 p.m. weekends. This restricts many job options. Another issue hurting teen employment is the city’s violence. Returning home late at night can be prohibitively dangerous.

Washington asked: Are teens a second priority for policymakers? Certainly, several panelists answered. Wuest explained that over the past decade, when the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) came into effect, the number of federally funded summer jobs for teenagers has declined significantly. We talk about the surge in Iraq, he said, but “If we did the same here, we could put 1 million of our most disadvantaged youth to work. If we can do it in Iraq, why not here in our own country?”

Black Star and several other groups are training young people in entrepreneurship. “This is what should be taught in high school, in elementary school,’ Jackson said. “Not to grow up and get a job, but grow up and find a way to sustain a family and contribute to society.” Big business employs fewer people than small business, he said.

A TrueStar youth from the audience said his mother had taught him you’re never too young to work. At the same time, it’s about building your resume, not always taking that $8.50 an hour job. “It’s about making a difference, not money,” he said. “Once you have that concept in your head, better things happen.”

“It’s unfortunate for the young born in a time like this,’ said Jackson of The Black Star Project. But his message was one of hope. “Young people must push their legislators. You’ll have to occupy LaSalle Street and you’ll have to take inspiration from this hardship and go out and make it. It’s our job, too, we cannot leave you out here by yourselves.”

Brenda Butler, executive director of Columbia Links, closed by holding up the most recent issue of the youth-produced magazine R-Wurd, at 52 pages, the largest edition yet. “Hope we all leave with food for thought and plans for action. Take home a leaflet. Take steps – write letters, make sure that lawmakers hear your voices.”

To learn more about the Columbia Links journalism program, visit www.columbialinks.org.

McCormick Journalism Program grantees:
Columbia Links
Free Spirit Media

--by Mark Hallett, senior program officer 

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