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, interactive exhibits and an amazing array of guest ‘speakers’ from amphibians of all kinds to polar bears and arctic foxes
* Shape the agenda around topics that are real-life and news worthy to teens, such as - steroids use, environmental journalism, the dangers of make up, global warming and teen depression
* Invite local anchors like Carolyn Clifford and meteorologist Andrew Humphrey to give 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
* And have 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 behind the whole thing putting the pieces together with vision and energy
* 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 their 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 speaks for the rest. At the end of his talk meteorologist Humphrey asked the crowded auditorium to see how many teens were of the class of ’11, then of the class of ’10, then of ’09 and finally ’08. He then asked how many of the seniors are registered to vote. A number remained standing and he responded by laughing, opening up his bag and distributing voter registration forms.
This is, after all, about much more than journalism alone – it’s about inspiring young minds and opening up career possibilities but also about kick-starting interest in our communities, country and ultimately our democracy.
But what a great place to start.