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Training tomorrow's journalists today

Logan Aimone.jpgStorytelling isn't dead. Spend some time at the National Scholastic Press Association's high school journalism convention and you'll find that to be true.

by Jen Keavy

Logan Aimone"Storytelling isn't dead," according to Logan Aimone, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA). Spend some time at NSPA's high school journalism convention and you'll find that to be true. Peek in on a yearbook design session or a new media workshop and you'll find a sea of wide-eyed, captivated teens who are eager to learn about journalism and be part of the profession's future.

Based on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, NSPA is a nonprofit educational association that provides journalism education services to students, teachers, media advisers and others throughout the United States. The organization provides journalism education to a wide range of journalism students, from middle school through college. The organization's signature activities include national conventions and workshops, a media critique and recognition program, and student media contests. Through these activities, NSPA promotes the standards and ethics of good journalism as accepted and practiced by the American print, broadcast and electronic media.

Although NSPA was founded at the University of Wisconsin by professor E. Marion Johnson (who later moved to the University of Minnesota and brought the organization with him), the School of Journalism & Mass Communication has a long standing affiliation with the organization. For nearly 40 years, longtime journalism faculty member Fred Kildow led the organization and his wife, Lucille, played an integral role in the organization as well. Per the organization's charter, three SJMC faculty are members of the executive board and Albert Tims, director of the SJMC, serves as president of the board. The connection between the organizations doesn't stop there. NSPA relies on SJMC faculty each year to serve as speakers at its conventions, judges for its contests and evaluators for its critiques.

"Last year, we hosted more than 500 Minnesota high school journalism students on campus for our Minnesota High School Press Association Convention," says Aimone. "We couldn't have done it without SJMC faculty volunteering to give talks about interviewing, ethics and photography."

Visiting the University campus gives students perspective that there's more to journalism than just their school newspaper. It gives them the chance to see themselves in a college journalism environment and the opportunity to interact with the nationally renowned faculty of the SJMC.

Regardless of the forms that journalism may take in the next decade, this future generation of journalism students will play a critical role in the media evolution. "One thing is certain: Journalism students will always need to develop their skills as thinkers, as interviewers, as storytellers and as watchdogs," Aimone says. "As educators, we have to prepare students with skills that are transferable to a number of platforms. We don't know what the delivery of news and information will look like in one year--let alone the next decade--but those skills are necessary no matter the format."

Aimone says he already sees a change in how student journalists are adopting technology in student-run media organizations. "In some ways it is changing more quickly, and in others it's finally catching up," he says. "In the 1990s, student-run media organizations were late to the game in moving their publications to the Internet. They didn't have the infrastructure to invest in software and computers." Aimone goes on to say that things have since changed: "They are catching up very quickly, and sometimes even adopting the technology earlier because students come to the process as native users of Web 2.0 technology. ... Students are more familiar with social media and more willing to experiment. Besides, there is less of a risk in experimenting in a student-run media organization than in a commercial environment."

As the media landscape continues to evolve and the future generation of journalists emerges, one thing is clear: There will always be a need for storytelling. Aimone quickly counters critics who say that journalism is dying. "The fact that we can still bring together thousands of people to learn about journalism speaks volumes--it's an amazing thing," he says.

SJMC Reaches Out to High School Journalism Students At NSPA Events

Sarah Saubert and studentThe SJMC hosted a recruitment booth at the Minnesota High School Press Association State Convention, held on the University of Minnesota campus in October 2008. The event drew more than 500 high school journalists from around the state, where they learned to improve their craft in newspaper, yearbook, broadcast, magazine, online and other media.

In November 2008, the SJMC was a sponsor and exhibitor at the National High School Journalism Convention in St. Louis. The Journalism Education Association (JEA) and National Scholastic Press Association hosted the convention, which drew several thousand high school students from across the country. Minnesota Journalism Center and University admissions staff spoke with many prospective students and drew a large crowd with the introduction of a "Plinko" board, allowing students to win University of Minnesota prizes.