Journalism teaches valuable life skills


By Ray Moscowitz
Miami County Weekly columnist

Editor’s note – This piece first appeared in the Miami County Weekly, a publication of the Kokomo Tribune.

Despite the battles over education in Indiana, a decision made recently will significantly benefit high school students.

The Indiana Department of Education will now allow local control in granting credits for honor diplomas. Previously, State Board of Education approval was needed.

The decision gladdens me, because journalism students, among others, will find it particularly advantageous.

The IDOE’s decision comes in the wake of a situation involving IU freshman Samantha Strong, according to Karen T. Braeckel, director of the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation.

Braeckel recently wrote in The Indiana Publisher about local boards now having the ability to weight journalism in a student’s academic standing.

That was not the case when Strong chose journalism over an honors class in high school. That decision may have cost Strong the rank of valedictorian.

In an article for the Indiana High School Press Association, Strong wrote:

“While the (Advanced Placement) program is great in terms of encouraging students to challenge themselves in the classroom and take more advanced courses, it is not great for subjects such as the arts and journalism.”

I know of at least one situation in Miami County where a student who was in contention to be valedictorian faced the same problem as Strong. The student wanted to take a class that was not weighted.

Strong wrote in her article:

“Many students neglect such courses because they are not weighted and would bring down their GPAs, making students less competitive when it comes to class ranking.”

In years past, I have suggested to a few school superintendents that a basic journalism course ought to be required for high school students.

The superintendents demurred, citing a lack of resources and time.

There was some legitimacy in their points, but not enough to convince me.

Yes, there are essential course requirements that consume time, but I believe that the curriculum can be structured to include journalism.

Here’s why journalism should be required, no matter the career path a student has chosen or is considering:

• Students would learn the meaning of free expression in a democratic society. Understanding the dynamics of information is essential in the age of social media.

• Students would learn to write in a journalistic idiom. That might be anathema to some English teachers, but learning the rhythm of journalistic prose will benefit students in developing their thought processes.

• Students would learn how to report, which will provide a major benefit later when they need to gather facts involving both their personal and occupational lives. Learning how to conduct an interview to acquire information is a significant asset for everyone.

• Students would learn how to synthesize their facts into a news story, feature article, personal column, and editorial. The principles of organization apply to all prose – essays, reports, memos, proposals and even letters.

• Students who have a desire to write opinion – personal columns, editorials, and “think pieces” – will learn how to fashion their reporting and research into thoughtful arguments.

• Students would learn how to accept fair and constructive criticism (and get a good understanding of what Harry Truman said about getting out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat). This is an added benefit for growing up with character.

• Students would experience the need to be mentally tough and develop a work ethic as they deal with deadlines.

• Students would be made aware of the essential need to keep abreast of current events. Knowing what’s going on in the world is a given for people in all walks of life.

• Finally, students would learn about people with different agendas and how they go about fulfilling them.

Granted, it might be difficult finding people to teach such a course.

I am not being critical of faculties, only realistic. The person teaching the journalism class I have in mind needs a solid background in the subject.

Part-time adjuncts can be the answer to this problem. This may require some changes in hiring policies. But changes can be made, and qualified people can be found if education officials think creatively and not worry about protecting turf.

Do I think this will happen?

Is the pope Jewish?

Ray Moscowitz is a journalist who has worked as a reporter, editor, publisher and corporate editorial director for more than a dozen newspapers in Indiana and Ohio. Now in his eighth decade, he continues to write a general interest newspaper column.