The National Scholastic Press Association is one of the oldest press associations in the country -- and it's educating the next generation of storytellers right in our backyard.
Diversity is defined as "the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization" and it's not a word that is discussed frequently enough in the current landscape of the journalism industry. In fact, in a recent study by the American Society of News Editors, minorities made up only 12.32 percent of newsrooms -- down a percentage point from a 2010 survey.
It's something Diana Mitsu Klos has experienced first-hand, and it's something she's trying to change.
Appointed to the National Scholastic Press Association's top leadership position of executive director last fall, Klos is both the first woman executive director, as well as the first one of Asian decent. "In this decade and this century, it shouldn't be a big deal, but it still is," Klos said of her appointment. "We're starting to see the progression of women moving into top positions -- not just in journalism -- but it's taken a long time."
Her first order of business since taking the helm of the 92-year-old organization in November: looking at the word "diversity" in a new light.
"Perhaps a better word for diversity is inclusion," she said, "It's about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity and access. One of the keys to our future relevance is simply ensuring that everyone is welcome to participate and feels like they are part of the group."
One year into her new role, it's an ideal that comes up often, and a piece of the impact Klos hopes to make on the nearly century-old organization as it continues to mold, encourage and train the next generation of storytellers.
Rooted in Minnesota
When NSPA was founded in 1921 by University of Wisconsin professor E. Marion Johnson, it was lauded as one of the first efforts in the nation to aid high school students interested in journalism in developing skills through workshops and competitions.
In 1927, when Johnson relocated to the University of Minnesota to head its new Department of Journalism, he brought the organization with him and prompted the beginning of a longstanding and healthy partnership between the association and the School of Journalism & Mass Communication.
"Its roots in Minnesota go back as far as anything," said SJMC director and NSPA board president Albert Tims. "We're thrilled to have NSPA connected with the University of Minnesota. It's a really important resource for us and it's an important part of our national mission to advance journalism and journalism education."
The partnership goes far beyond the University serving as headquarters for the organization. For 50 years NSPA was housed in Murphy Hall and led by SJMC faculty. Today, NSPA offices remain a stone's throw from Murphy Hall and faculty serve on NSPA's board and speak at workshops and conventions.
More importantly, however, is the shared responsibility SJMC and NSPA bear to fulfill the organization's mission to provide journalism education services to students, teachers, media advisors and others from middle school to the collegiate level through training programs, critiques and recognition of excellence.
Education is Key
The very first conference -- now a hallmark event for NSPA -- was hosted in Madison in 1922 and boasted 574 delegates from 16 states, divided across 238 newspapers, 48 magazines and 103 annuals. It was the first time publications were rated in their respective divisions, and in that inaugural year, 14 newspapers, 14 annuals and nine magazines took home All American ratings -- the highest rating given to any publication in the critique service.
Today, there are 1,700 member schools, and thousands of students and advisers participating through one of the organization's three branches: For middle school, junior high and high school students, it's NSPA, or, if the high school is a Minnesota member, the Minnesota High School Press Association; for college members, it's the Associated Collegiate Press.
Many of these members travel around the United States every year to attend the spring and fall National High School Journalism Convention (hosted in conjunction with NSPA's partner organization, the Kansas State University-based Journalism Education Association). At these conventions -- the next ones being Nov. 6 to 9 in Washington, D.C., for high school students and Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 in Philadelphia for college students -- conference-goers have the opportunity to attend workshops focused on best practices in newspaper, yearbook, magazine, broadcast, online, advising and media law, among others; receive on-site critiques of their publications; and network with other students and professionals in the industry.
"So often schools aren't able to give student media the support they need," said Candace Perkins Bowen, a former student media adviser and the current director of the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University. "I think the conferences are phenomenal as far as getting people together and having them see the potential, asking, 'How can we be better?'"
It's also when a select group of talented students will be awarded with the highest honor of high school and collegiate journalism: the Pacemaker award. Issued by NSPA since 1927, the award is given to those who best exemplify quality writing and editing, graphics, photography and leadership in each of the respective media.
"These awards have long been considered the ultimate prizes of student journalism," wrote the executive secretary of the Journalism Education Association, Dr. David L. Adams, in a letter to the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America) dated Jan. 23, 1988. "They have indeed become known as the 'Pulitzer Prizes' of student journalism."
In addition to these national conventions where student journalists are recognized for their excellent work, smaller workshops are also offered throughout the year to sharpen and build on existing skills.
During last year's Summer High School Journalism Workshop, for example, 40 students and eight advisers descended on Murphy Hall for three days, attending breakout sessions and learning from keynote speaker Neal Justin of the Star Tribune.
"It's our job to take over next year, so we want to be as prepared as possible," said Kristi DeLeo of Roseville Area High School, who attended last summer's workshop in an effort to be prepared for her upcoming leadership role as co-editor of her high school's yearbook with fellow student Becca Ohm.
"We want to build on these skills and be able to share this knowledge with our staff," Ohm added.
A Brighter (More Tech-Savvy) Tomorrow
Although the conventions and workshops have proven to be successful in the past, the board is constantly striving to build new partnerships in order to increase inclusion and educate future journalism leaders, especially in the realm of technological advances.
"There are economic barriers to access, and with new digital technology, we're going to be able to do new, exciting programs that are available remotely," Tims said. "That's really driving the conversations we're having today. I'm not sure what the landscape will look like in a decade, but we want to be a part of it."
That's where Klos comes into the picture. With a resume ranging from reporting gigs at Newsday in New York and The Daily Journal in New Jersey to senior project director at the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Virginia, she is very well connected and has an eye for seeking out synergy between groups, Bowen said. "As far as connecting different organizations and ideas, she seeks an answer to the question, 'What could we do together to make both of us better?'"
In May, NSPA secured its first new partnership under Klos' leadership with one of the most prestigious journalism institutions in the country: the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
Through the three-year agreement, members of ACP can receive discounted journalism training e-tools, such as online courses, training packages and certificate programs. The initiative also introduces students to organizations and others in the profession that will be useful to them as they enter the workforce.
"The ACP and Poynter partnership is the first, and it certainly won't be the last one either," Klos said. "It's about embracing the technology that is available and looking at the possibilities for young people who are embarking on journalism and media careers."
Despite the push to incorporate education and resources revolving around digital media and new technological tools for journalists into its membership offerings, one goal of NSPA and its leadership team is unchanging: To arm students with good ethics and best practices in the field, as well as instill in them the passion and drive needed to succeed in this competitive but rewarding industry.
"Every day you learn something new. It's very demanding, but can also be very fulfilling," said Klos of her reason for getting into the media business. "It's a public service. You're constantly learning about new things, new people and different ways of thinking. It just helps make you a better person. It makes your life experience much richer, much fuller."
-By Taylor Selcke (B.A., '12)