The First Amendment and Young Bloggers

The Knight Foundation announced this week at the Unity ’08 Conference a new book that, among other things, says that “high school students who blog and read online news sources and who chat regularly online are more likely to understand and support their First Amendment rights.”

This, of course, is particularly important given the Knight Foundation’s heavily reported 2004 study that found that three-fourths of U.S. teens surveyed didn’t know or didn’t care about the First Amendment.

I find this particularly interesting given the conversation I had with my student editors earlier this week about a new campaign we’re planning at Cerritos College. Some of you will remember our campaign from last year that I touted at JACC conferences of “Think Online.” It was an effort to get journalism students to think more about how to present stories online first and in ways other than simply repeating what they planned to (or already had) present in print. The campaign included a conscious effort on my part to include discussion of online in almost all newspaper class sessions and in other journalism classes. We even prominently displayed a “Think Online” banner in the news lab. We made small strides in changing the “print first” mindset, but still have a ways to go.

Do You Blog?My latest idea that I discussed with the editors this week –even before reading about the Knight report– and which they wholeheartedly bought into is called “Do You Blog?” It will be an effort not only to get newspaper staff members to think more about blogging themselves, but to seek out citizen blogs from across campus. We will actively seek out students and staff on campus who already blog about campus events or other topics that might be of interest to the Talon Marks readership. Links to their blogs will be prominently displayed on the Talon Marks site.

But we plan to go a few steps further than just linking to the other blogs:

  • We will monitor those blogs and give more individual prominence to particularly cogent posts, possibly even teasing them in the print edition.
  • We will actively encourage other groups on campus to blog. One of the first contacts will be with our student body president, who has not indicated much love for the paper. We will give him a forum to tell his side of the story. But we’ll also encourage active clubs on campus to start their own blogs about their own events.
  • We’ll expand on our very successful MyDemocracy partnership with our Political Science Department and incorporate blog writing training into our one-unit multimedia practice classes (Jour 106 – talonmarks.com) that is part of that partnership. While Poly Sci students will receive video editing training, some of our instructors will carve out slots to focus on how to write compelling news blogs and provide a structure for students to learn. This will be our way of “monotizing” the idea. Blogging is already a component in our three-unit Multimedia Reporting class that we’ve incorporated as a core requirement along with Mass Media and Beginning Newswriting in our Associate of Arts degree.
  • And I foresee yet another banner that can be displayed at campus events and hung in the newsroom in between events that will will serve as a daily reminder to journalism students.

Blogs are something to learn more about. I agree with the complaints about them that they can often be looked at as “navel gazing” and many blog writers do little initial reporting; instead they comment on other peoples’ reporting. Worse, they sometimes seem incestuous in that they only point to other peoples’ blogs as existing, adding little if any added value. Even much of what I’ve included in this post is information from other sources and I’ve done little leg work. I hope I’ve at least added value.

Blogs are here to stay and I think they CAN be valuable if handled properly. We intend to do our part in adding to the value of them.

I found the Knight report interesting and encouraging … at least until I turned to today’s NPR report on political blogging that included a point of view that the average age of political bloggers is between 40 and 50. Ugh! Did we miss the boat?

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