A plaque on the Ida B. Wells monument states, "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." Photo © Logan Aimone.

Coverage ideas: Who we honor and how — monuments, mascots and history

A plaque on the Ida B. Wells monument states, "The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them." Photo © Logan Aimone.
A plaque on the Ida B. Wells monument states, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Photo © Logan Aimone.

A campaign of several years to remove monuments to people associated with the Confederacy or to rename places and facilities honoring them gained momentum in the weeks and months after the unrest of the summer of 2020. But the effort is not to just remove statues or rename military bases. Supporters of the effort also say it’s long past time to recognize people who have contributed positively but who do not have a prominent presence among monuments and other places of honor. The national reckoning around race also prompted two professional sports teams to change their names.

Key questions: Who does your school and community honor, and who is overlooked?

  • Does your school, neighborhood or community recognize contributions of people from a variety of backgrounds?
  • How do the landmarks, schools, libraries, streets, parks, statues and other named items align with the demographics of the people who live there? What do the people who live there think of this?
  • Do any of the place and landmark names in your community use terminology that is offensive or outdated? Are these places and landmarks in honor of people who have pasts that are seen differently today?
  • Who should be honored in your community? How do you or your peers suggest they be honored?
  • Do any school mascots in your community or athletic conference use offensive identities, terminology or imagery? What is their history, and how are these mascots being re-evaluated today?

Monuments 

Mascots 

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple coins with soft portrait lighting

Coverage ideas: Making money on new technologies

Several new marketplaces have emerged or matured in 2021, bringing technologies and new opportunities to make money along with ethical concerns. 

Key question: Are the risks associated with emerging cryptocurrencies and other digital investments worth the reward?

  • What do students and adults in your school know about cryptocurrencies and NFTs? What can you do to help them understand these emerging marketplaces?
  • How has information about these emerging technologies been incorporated into your school’s curriculum or extra-curricular clubs?
  • Have any of your students participated as investors or creators?
  • How do members of your school community feel about the energy consumed in developing and supporting cryptocurrencies?
  • At a summer camp, juice boxes and bitcoin mining (NBC News, July 2) — “Over five days, the [Crypto Kids Camp] combines activities that would be common at any summer camp with a crash course in how to think about, buy and even mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.”
  • What Are NFTs, Anyway? One Just Sold for $69 Million. (The New York Times, May 12) — “‘Nonfungible tokens’ and blockchain technology are taking the mainstream art world by storm, fetching huge prices. We explain, or try to.” 
  • Cryptocurrency’s Newest Frontier (The New York Times “The Daily” podcast, April 13)
  • The climate controversy swirling around NFTs (The Verge, March 15) — “Individual pieces of crypto art, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), are at least partially responsible for the millions of tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions generated by the cryptocurrencies used to buy and sell them. Some artists — including those who have already benefited from the craze — think it’s a problem that can be easily solved. Others think the proposed solutions are a pipe dream.”

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coverage ideas: Making money as an influencer or creator

President Biden and Olivia Rodrigo take a selfie when she visited the White House on July 17. Photo via the White House.

A 2019 survey showed more kids in America and the U.K. wanted to grow up to be a YouTube star than an astronaut. The past year and a half of being at home for learning, working and even socializing has made the impact of social media marketing even stronger. Influencer marketing is expected to grow to be worth $13.8 billion in 2021, and lots of people want a piece of that. Most brands are using Instagram, but TikTok is on the rise. One significant indication that influencers and creators are now an established industry? The New York Times has moved most of the stories on this topic from the Style section to Business.

Key question: What is the impact of influencers at your school?

  • How are students and adults in your school community being influenced? What are the ways in which they are making decisions based on what they see and hear from influencers on social media? Are they more likely to be swayed by advocacy/issue please or products/sales?
  • Who are the most influential influencers among students at your school? Why? What do they promote?
  • Who is influencing? Are any people at your school influencers? What platform(s) do they use, and how big is their following? 
  • Do any people at school want to be influencers? What are they doing to make it a reality?
  • What are the stats for your student body and social media — what platforms, how much time spent, what do they do?
  • Use the opportunity to review platforms and posts — from YouTube to Instagram and TikTok. 
  • What is the popular content among people in your school community (even non-influencer content)?
  • What are some of the ethical issues related to time spent, disclosure of payment for a post, credit and more? What does your audience think?
  • To Fight Vaccine Lies, Authorities Recruit an ‘Influencer Army’ (The New York Times, Aug. 1) — “These days, young people are more likely to trust the advice of their favorite content creator than a mainstream celebrity, according to a 2018 study by the marketing agency MuseFind.”
  • What Won’t the Nelk Boys Do? (The New York Times, June 29) — “Known for their pranks, parties and crude humor, the YouTubers are used to getting in trouble. But for them, the backlash is the brand.”
  • Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work (NPR, July 1)
  • Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down (The New York Times, June 8) — “Gen Z creators are struggling with the challenges that come with building, managing and monetizing a following online.”
  • Can Streaming Pay? Musicians Are Pinning Fresh Hopes on Twitch. (The New York Times, June 16) — “According to Spotify’s own figures, 97 percent of artists there generated less than $1,000 in payments last year. (Spotify points to the growing number of musicians earning large sums as a sign of its value.) Twitch, by contrast, is an alternate universe where even niche artists can make thousands of dollars a month by cultivating fan tribes whose loyalty is expressed through patronage.”
  • The Superstars of Tourette’s TikTok (The Atlantic, July 19) — “How disability influencers are using TikTok to fight stigma.”
  • Inside TikTok’s highly secretive algorithm (The Wall Street Journal, July 21) — “A Wall Street Journal investigation found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what you want: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking you.”
  • Next IPhones Cater Deftly to Creators and Influencers (Bloomberg, Aug. 17)

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coverage ideas: Census and changing demographics

The Constitution requires that the government count the population every 10 years for the purpose of determining how to allocate congressional representation, but the demographic data collected now is used for a lot more than just that, including steering $1.5 trillion of federal spending. Results from the 2020 census, which was complicated by accusations of politicization and challenges of the count during a pandemic (which delayed the results), show some significant changes. Compared to a decade ago, the nation is more diverse with sizable growth among the Hispanic and Asian populations. The percentage of white residents is smaller, offset by a growth in people identifying as belonging to two or more races. More people live in cities and suburbs than rural areas. Some areas in Florida and Texas have seen double-digit growth since 2010, and the top 10 cities each have at least 1 million residents for the first time.

Key question: How has your community changed since the 2010 census?

  • What are the notable changes in your community from the 2020 census? 
  • Which demographics have increased, and which have decreased? How do these align with or differ from the major national trends?
  • What is the impact of these changes — different legislative boundaries, focus on different groups?
  • Based on these early census data, do students in your school think programs or funding should be changed?
  • 2020 Census Statistics Highlight Local Population Changes and Nation’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity (U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 12)
  • U.S. Census quick facts 
  • EXPLAINER: 5 takeaways from the release of 2020 census data (Associated Press, Aug. 12)
  • AP Census Hub collects all stories from the Associated Press on the topic, which is an excellent source of story ideas.
  • Census Reporter has lots of explanation on the data as well as some story ideas. 
  • Census shows US is diversifying, white population shrinking (Associated Press, Aug. 12) — “Some demographers cautioned that the white population was not shrinking as much as shifting to multiracial identities. The number of people who identified as belonging to two or more races more than tripled from 9 million people in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. They now account for 10% of the U.S. population.”
  • Multiracial boom reflects US racial, ethnic complexity (Associated Press, Aug. 13) — Changes in how the census asked questions and how responses were processed account for some of the change. There’s also less stigma to being multiracial and more discussion about it. “In an age of easily accessible DNA testing kits, the growth reflects a deepening of the way Americans think about themselves when it comes to racial identity, experts say.”
  • Where the Racial Makeup of the U.S. Shifted in the Last Decade (The New York Times, Aug. 12) — “Nearly every county in the United States became more diverse in the last decade as the nation recorded its first drop in the white population in 2020, according to detailed data on race and ethnicity released by the Census Bureau on [Aug. 12]. More than a third of the nation now lives in counties where people of color are a majority.”
  • The New York Times also has a running page of census data stories and how they affect everything from understanding demographic shifts to how that impacts things like political reapportionment and redistricting.

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coronavirus image via CDC

Coverage ideas: Coronavirus/COVID-19 vaccination

More than 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, it remains the story most driving the news, particularly with schools. It’s a factor in everything from safety to budgets to curriculum. Vaccines and rates of vaccination continue to drive school news, too, especially as regions of the nation experience a midsummer surge in infections from the delta variant of the virus. 

Updated July 28. In late July, several state and local governments declared that government employees would have to get vaccinated or comply with additional mitigation and testing requirements. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance that in areas where the virus is spreading all people should wear masks indoors at public venues, regardless of vaccination status, and that at schools, everyone of all ages and vaccination statuses should wear a mask. The guidelines followed news that vaccinated people could become infected (though they were unlikely to die or be hospitalized) and they could spread the virus, particularly the more-infectious delta variant. 

Updated Aug. 14. Governors in Illinois, California, Washington and other states mandated masks for schools statewide. Some states or local school districts have also required school employees to be vaccinated, and the nation’s largest teachers union supports it. Despite the new information and CDC guidelines, governors in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma and South Carolina prohibited school districts from requiring masks, while the Arkansas prohibition is on hold by a judge. Several school districts in Florida and Texas have said they would require masks in defiance of the state prohibition. Mask requirements are changing rapidly, but The Washington Post tracks the changes here.

Updated Aug. 18. Tens of thousands of students and teachers are already quarantining due to exposure to someone with COVID-19 in a school that has already started the year. A school district in Texas added mask-wearing to its dress code as a way to circumvent the governor’s order against mandating masks. The Biden administration announced that boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would be available for people eight months after receiving them (beginning in late September).

Key question: How have local conditions and the political environment affected your school’s plan to hold classes in person?

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coverage ideas: Climate change

The world is getting hotter, and humans are causing it. There’s now no disputing these facts. The climate change crisis has become even more pronounced as extreme weather events have become more extreme and more common. This summer saw the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in Oregon, California, British Columbia and Greece, exceptional flooding in Germany and China, rising shorelines and more. Recent surveys show attitudes among younger people favor strong actions, such as favoring alternative energy sources, even at the expense of economic growth. However, significant differences exist not just between generations but also political beliefs, race and ethnicity.

Key question: What are your students doing about climate change?

  • How is climate change affecting your community?
  • Conduct your own survey using questions similar to the Pew Research Center to determine the opinions of people in your school community.
  • What are the actions your school is taking to teach about climate change and to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change?
  • Interview local elected officials about their stance on proposals to curb climate change.
  • Who are the people at your school most engaged on issues of climate change? What are they doing about it?
  • What are ways students can take action — small to large?

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coverage ideas: Teaching about race

Critical race theory is the study of how racism shapes laws, policies and society. Over the last several months, officials nationwide have raced to enact new laws and introduce new policies meant to shape how students discuss the nation’s past — and its present. Track legislation and policy proposals here. (via Chalkbeat)

Key question: How has your school responded to the recent national debate on how to teach about race and racism in the United States?

  • How did your school react to the movement to prohibit the use of critical race theory? Was there a push to make changes at the state or local level? Was there a response?
  • Do members of your school community understand the existing curriculum and how teachers teach about race and racism? What are the misconceptions?
  • What do teachers and administrators think should be in school curriculum, and how do they think it should be taught? Aside from the curriculum, are there other ways to teach about race and racism?
  • How does your school’s curriculum compare to other schools nearby or in neighboring states?

Other curricular developments

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.

Coverage ideas: Cancel culture

The practice of online shaming of people who have problematic behavior from the past or present continues to be a cultural force, particularly among people who identify as more liberal. This practice is not new. It was a summer of many open letters. The issue has evolved into an election campaign issue since President Donald Trump mentioned it at his July 4 speech, where he called it “the very definition of totalitarianism,” and “completely alien to our culture and our values.” Note that canceling something can be different from cancel culture. Its prevalence in the culture through several recent high-profile “cancellations,” and because it has become an election issue make it a timely topic to cover for any student media, including yearbooks.

Cancel by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

  • This 32-minute podcast from WNYC’s “On the Media” breaks down the principles of cancel culture and its effects.
  • The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, who writes from a more conservative political perspective, offers “10 Theses About Cancel Culture
  • A letter published in Harper’s Weekly in July caused a stir when notable authors and writers pushed back against “cancellation” of ideas and individuals: “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.”
  • The Harper’s ‘Letter,’ cancel culture and the summer that drove a lot of smart people mad (The Washington Post): “While the Harper’s letter doesn’t explicitly blame ‘cancel culture,’ many readers saw it as the subtext — a big part of the debate roiling elite cultural institutions. For some, ‘cancel culture’ is the specter of online mobs advocating for someone to get fired over anything from an old tweet to an innocuous statement that doesn’t conform to some emerging progressive ethos. Others argue there’s no such thing — that the phrase itself is an attempt to dismiss the young or minority or LGBTQ groups using social media to hold the powerful accountable.”
  • The New York Times podcast “The Daily” took a deeper dive through a two-part explanation Aug. 10 and 11. Part 1: “Where it came from” and Part 2: “A case study”

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • When it comes to calling out bad actions, what are the possible repercussions — both for those being called out and those doing the calling?
  • Is there room for redemption, particularly among younger offenders? Can people recover from a cancellation?
  • How do teens reconcile positive feelings toward people and things they enjoy (entertainers, performers, creators, products) with potentially problematic behavior by the people behind those things? In short, can you separate the art from the artist?

Possible sources:

Journalists, digital media and pop culture college professors, social media influencers that your audience follows, people who have been “canceled” and others who have expertise in this area

Possible sidebars:

  • Case study of someone who was called out or who called someone out
  • Glossary of terms
  • Timeline of “cancellations” or the life cycle of a “cancellation“
  • Quotation collection or poll with opinions about cancel culture
  • Pro/con debate

Coverage ideas: Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has come to affect every aspect of life: school, work, home, social. For a period of weeks in the late spring and early summer, nearly every story in media had some connection to the pandemic — only a few other stories broke through, and even they typically were presented in the context of a stay-at-home order, social distancing or health/safety.

The pandemic also provides student journalists with numerous coverage opportunities. Every school news outlet should have a regular beat related to the pandemic, and every yearbook should have at least one spread to cover these events. So much student journalism is reactive to planned events and spot news, and there is a disappointing lack of enterprise in most student media. Of course you will want to cover the daily or weekly events — changes in policies, cancellations. The challenge with coronavirus coverage is to find ways to cover the impact or the less obvious stories, most of which will not fit neatly in a daily news story. But part of the work of student journalism is to document not just events but feelings, opinions and trends as a way of capturing history of this time.

Below are two story ideas that relate to the coronavirus pandemic. There are more, such as lasting economic impacts and sports.

Social-emotional learning. One of the biggest areas for potential stories will be the social-emotional learning and wellness around returning to school after being isolated for so long. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations to reopen schools for in-person learning because of the negative effects of social isolation. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) also issued guidelines and tools to “Reunite, Renew and Thrive.” A related but distinct story that deserves coverage: gaps in equality and achievement that have been exacerbated through the pandemic.

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • What has the school done to assist students and adults with the transition back to school this fall?
  • How are students and adults in the school coping with the transition back to school — likely distance learning at first but eventually in person?
  • What are some ways students and others recognize that they have changed? What are they doing to accept that change or to try to counteract that change?
  • Are there new activities in school (through classes or advisory programs), clubs, lunch or afterschool activities that are designed to assist with this transition and to help people cope?

Possible sources:

Students and teachers, counselors, school psychologist, mental health professionals in your community or at a college/university

Possible sidebars:

  • Quotation collection about feelings of isolation or how sources have fought isolation or set goals
  • Tips from metal health professionals on how to stay connected or to deal with isolation
  • Listing of resources or of curricular/pedagogical changes
  • Profile of one person’s experiences
  • Compare distance learning with the revised in-person format or a hybrid plan

School opening and safety. Late summer was a time of much debate about whether and how schools should reopen. Soon after the first schools began the school year, among those that started in person were several coronavirus outbreaks. Schools likely spent a lot of time and funds on reorganizing school to be safe for distance learning or in-person classes.

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • How have people and the culture changed? Did people follow stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines?
  • Did students, employees and parents feel that the campus was safe for in-person instruction? What made them feel safe?
  • What is the budget impact from distance learning or to modify campus for in-person classes?
  • Even when social distancing was relaxed, how comfortable were people with “returning to normal”?
  • What role did the teachers’ union play in the decision about returning to school?
  • What are some of the longer-term impacts and lasting changes from the need for different types of instruction (revised in-person, distance, hybrid)?

Possible sources:

Principal or other administrator, school budget officer, school nurse, teachers and students, public health official in your community or at a college/university

Possible sidebars:

  • Profile or Q&A of someone regarding their experience recovering from COVID-19 — or their experience of having a relative with COVID-19
  • Listing of physical changes for safety such as modified water fountains or plexiglass partitions in the food-service area
  • Listing of other changes to the curriculum or teaching methods, such as an ability to work remotely and a desire for more group work (or continued independence)
  • Quotation collection on what made people feel safe or unsafe
  • Quotation collection about the first day that was unlike any other
  • Examples of individual safety routines
  • Gallery of face masks and how people balanced safety with personal expression
  • Timeline of school reopening decision and key events
  • Statistics list of expenses: distance learning (computers, wifi hotspots, software, training), in-person classes (plexiglass partitions, tape markings, new furniture), cleaning, transportation, operations (thermometers, masks, tests)

 

Story ideas from Summer 2020

Each summer, several topics emerge that are appropriate for including in student media with a localized angle. Some of them have cultural impact, while others are one-time news items that can be made specific through an interview at the school or in the community. I compile these into a list that I use in teaching summer workshops and to spark my own students’ ideas for coverage beyond the obvious.

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. It’s not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas.

Many of the topics are related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic — school safety, economic impact and changes to learning. In many ways, the topics are intertwined as it is difficult to separate and isolate health, economy, education and civil rights. Main topics include: coronavirus and school; schools and sports; college and the application process; cancel culture and removing monuments or named spaces; Black Lives Matter, race and reckoning; journalism, media and objectivity; and of course the Nov. 3 election.

The full Summer 2020 list is here. It probably will be updated.