CMM Special Series: What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism? (Part 1)

During his recent efforts to help plan programming for the fall 2015 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention — the world’s largest annual gathering of student journalists and their advisers and profs — David Simpson wanted to hear more from the students themselves. Specifically, he was curious: In these changing times, what do potential student attendees want to get most from a journalism conference experience? So Simpson, a revered veteran journalist and director of student media at Georgia Southern University, reached out to me with his student-first query. I in turn reached out to the summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellows — an elite crew of current and recent student journalists.

For this CMM special series, 14 Fellows offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question: What topic, tech tool, news beat, skill-set or current event would you love to learn more about, lead a session on or help debate during a journalism convention? Their answers run the gamut — touching on everything from science journalism and Snapchat to sexual assault coverage and workflow management.

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What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism?
Part 1: ‘The Interesting Important & the Important Interesting’

By Danielle KleinUniversity of Toronto

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

In my experience in student journalism, finding writers for the Science section was always a challenge. Students studying science don’t tend to want to go into journalism or feel confident about their writing. And students not studying science don’t tend to want to cover science-related topics or feel confident writing about them authoritatively.

A particularly sensitive topic to cover within the section is health. It’s always critically important to get the story right, but spreading false information about health is particularly problematic. This past year at The Varsity, our Science section, led by editor Jasleen Arneja, collaborated with Juxtaposition Global Health Magazine to host a panel discussion on campus about responsible health reporting. We live-streamed the event, which featured journalists from Vox, The Globe and Mail and Healthy Debate.

A Health Journalism Symposium at the University of Toronto co-sponsored by The Varsity and Juxtaposition Global Health Magazine.

The event was a great success, attended by students and community members and garnering a wide social media response. The crux of the discussion was that a lot of health reporting misses the big picture — content exaggerates study results or points to singular causes of health issues that simplify matters far too much. There is a lot of panic and hot takes and little context. Many health issues come down to poverty and access to healthcare. Social determinants of health (SDOHS) are terribly underreported, perhaps, the panelists suggested, due to their poor branding. After all, SDOHS isn’t a particularly catchy acronym.

The moderator of the panel, Jeffrey Dvorkin, who runs the journalism program at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, summarized the conversation by posing the question: How do you make the interesting important and the important interesting?

In that spirit, this is my proposal for a conference session: How do we cover health responsibly, but also innovatively? As I envision it, a diverse panel of journalists, health professionals, designers and students would sit together to provide complementary and competing perspectives. For college media in particular, the topic of health comes up in a variety of ways, including related research conducted by faculty and in campus labs; employee healthcare coverage; campus health policy and clinics; and incidents and issues involving sexual health and mental health. We have a responsibility to report on these subjects, and to do so better than we have been up until now. Ideally, we want to produce content about health in a manner that is accurate, thorough and addresses social determinants, but also in a way that is interesting, interactive and shareable.

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A recent screenshot of The Varsity’s Science section online.

I would like to see a session that looks at news outlets which are doing health reporting right, and examples of pieces which are misleading or otherwise problematic. Health professionals could contribute their impressions of how the media covers SDOHS and how health reporting can improve. Designers can provide input on making health journalism interesting through visual content — using data to build infographics or portraits to provide human stories, for example. Students can discuss their experiences with health reporting and health issues on campus that they feel are underreported or could be reported on better.

It’s not always easy to find health journalists, and often campus health issues are relegated to briefs in the news section or not reported on from a scientific perspective. This session could provide student journalists with some vocabulary and strategies to report more and report better on health.

Danielle Klein is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, where she will soon be pursuing her master’s studies focused on culture, technology and knowledge and information management. This past year, she served as editor-in-chief of The Varsity, Canada’s largest student newspaper. She is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

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