Several years ago, on the first day of my journalism class at Phillips Academy, I asked my students to write down why they decided to take a course in writing and reporting the news. I told them to describe their philosophical ideals and their personal goals, and I told them to be honest. Perhaps their secret desire was to make or influence the news rather than merely to report it. Perhaps they were less concerned with journalism's contribution to democracy than with getting themselves a byline. I wanted them to tell me the truth, because journalism is about truth above all. "Abandon duplicity," I said, "and tell it to me straight."
"I had fifth period free," some wrote.
"I couldn't get into the class on Images of Women."
"My friend's roommate said it was a pretty good course."
Well, alrighty then. Fifth period free! I won't pretend their responses thrilled me—though that one kid clearly had a fine mind, the one whose friend's roommate took the course—but the truth is, the responses didn't surprise me either, because most of my students were born 15 minutes ago. To my students, events from the 20th century feel historic, including the event of Watergate, if they've even heard of it, which most of them have not. Furthermore, they get their news from Jon Stewart. I know you can do worse, but still, I should have known they weren't prepared to deliver confessions about their personal relationship to the concept of a free press. I should have remembered that most of them hadn't in their entire lives given a thought to the concept of a free press.
I had launched the course three years earlier for a few reasons. First, our school didn't offer a journalism course, and though you can't really learn how to be a journalist from taking a course, you can certainly get started that way. Secondly, such a course will teach you to think critically about the media, which is a skill all high school students should acquire lest they spend a lifetime being spun. Finally, writing news articles teaches you how to write, certainly as well as writing about Shakespeare can; it also teaches you how to think clearly, because you have to figure out what you are trying to say and then say it—accurately. So journalism, I thought, deserved a place in the Course of Study.
I narrowed the course down to print journalism and, specifically, to newspaper reporting and writing because I had been a print journalist; it's what I knew. Plus, I know that if you learn to write for a daily newspaper, you can take that skill to any sort of journalism—to TV or radio or magazines, and to digital journalism.
This FlexBook® textbook is designed to help students become capable print journalists in a hurry. It is also designed to help them think about the meaning of a free press and their responsibility as citizens to pay attention to the news. One shouldn't have to become a journalist to understand one's obligations as a citizen of a democracy, but the truth is, it was only after I became a newspaper reporter in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that I really understood how much it took for me to "get" a story, and how much it mattered that people should then read what I'd worked so hard to find out, for them. And, from there, it wasn't such a great leap for me to grasp that I wasn't just a reporter with a cool job finding out the news; I was also a citizen who, to be honest, hadn't always read the newspaper faithfully myself. I'd been a slug, really. I had taken my freedoms gladly—freedoms guaranteed by the very press I had mostly ignored—and now I understood that one of my responsibilities as a citizen was to pay attention to the news. What a surprise for me! All these years later, this responsibility is a surprise to my students, too.
Finally, excellent journalism is different from lousy journalism, and this resource aims to inspire my students to become excellent at this work. And excellent journalism always begins with—and depends on—not only the talent but also the character of each individual journalist. In every chapter of this book, I return to that theme of my students' character.
In the fall of 2012, I added a digital component to this book with the help of students in my journalism class at Phillips Academy. Connie Cheng '13 embedded web links throughout the text. Eric Ouyang '13 wrote a section introducing the digital world. Gabriele Fisher '13 authored the section on citizen journalism. Additional support and inspiration came from their classmates (all from the Class of 2013): Shireen Aziz, Ida Dhanuka, Leta Elias, Andrea Hewett, Sung Woo Hong, Jordan Johnson, Lauren Kim, Se Hwan Kim, Christian Langalis, Kayla Maloney, Will Rodriguez, and Gina Sawaya.
During the summer and fall of 2013, Connie Cheng also worked with me to edit and revise the book and create the CK-12 FlexBook® version.