Friday, August 31, 2007

When It Comes To Journalism Fundamentals, Naples High School Falls Flat

Think about this for a second: You're a newspaper reporter for the local major broadsheet in your area. You've been a great reporter -- you've caught some great beats and won the paper accolades for an undercover story about a corrupt police chief. It's time for your year-end review, and your editor calls you into his office:

"Johnson, you've done some fabulous things for this paper. Really top-notch stuff. Your general assignment work has been on time and had clean copy, and that undercover story really helped put us on the map. I know you aren't paid very well (neither one of us are, Johnson).

However, during your otherwise stellar year here, you didn't sell enough advertisements. Yes, ye- yes that's right, Johnson. The boss upstairs doesn't like his journalism without that weekly paycheck just as much as any of us around here do. So the big boss said you've gotta go. There are younger whippersnappers out there who are hungrier to make a buck at the reader's expense. Pack your things, Johnson."

If this happened to you, what would you say? You'd be outraged, for one, and probably start regurgitating the high-minded journalism sayings that crowd every newsroom, things like "for the people" and "to help them be free and self-governing" and things like that.

Well the time has come. High school journalism students in Naples, Fla. fail an assignment if they don't sell enough ads for the school yearbook. According to Jim Romenesko, "The syllabus says $600 in ads gets an A; $500, a B; $400, a C; $300, a D; and less than $300, an F. 'It bothers me,' says a school board member. 'I don't think you should be able to buy a grade.' "

Apparently, this Collier County school forgot one tenet of modern journalism: Separating business from editorial. But aside from ethics, does this even mirror the real world?

I'd say no. But at Naples High, it's half your grade.

One student quoted in the NBC2 investigation said she doesn't think it's a problem because it teaches them to communicate. For someone in her formative years, this may be a fundamental way of thinking that is dangerous.

The Editorialiste's opinion? Teach the kids about both, but ensure that there's a clear distinction -- and don't require it of anyone. Then again, it's entirely possible that the high school will just change the name to "journalism and business" or something similar to avoid the fire it has received.

Should we scrutinize journalism at this level? To what level, I don't know -- but for fundamentals, I think it's necessary that the real, practicing journalists stand up and make sure the word "journalism" means the same thing on every level -- even high school.

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