Via Media: Journalism in the Middle School
Written by Thomas J. Kaup
The words “middle school yearbook” initially conjure up an image of a soft cover with crude artwork of the school mascot, perhaps with a bubble out of the mouth of the lion, bear or panther saying something cute like, “Another year has gone by!” Inside the book are pages replete with posed snapshots. The captions are all the same, “________________ says ‘cheese’ for the camera!” Yes, all captions MUST end with an explanation point, this is Rule #1! When in doubt, use more!! The enthusiasm for your great book will certainly catch on!!!
Is this the best yearbook a junior high or middle school can produce? Absolutely not. A glance at the middle school yearbooks submitted to the Columbia or National Scholastic Press Association contests will reveal middle school yearbooks with a hard cover and readable, appropriate copy that will stand the test of time. In these books, readers can discover how 9/11 impacted 11- and 12-year-old students in the heartland of America, who was the most desired American Idol, statistics for the girls volleyball team, and how many city championships the school received. In sum, one can find a true history of the year. How can your middle school program produce such a book?
1. Decide to step into the “Via Media,” the middle way of journalism by committing to true journalistic style. Use whatever structure the school will support – extracurricular, volunteer or academic class. Create a yearbook that reflects both middle school life AND the best principles of journalism.
2. Join a state or national professional journalism organization, such as the Journalism Education Association.
3. Sign up with an established publishing company, such as Walsworth. These companies offer invaluable resources that mail-in companies do not possess. You also will have ready access to a company representative who will mentor you every step of the way.
4. Establish a three- or five-year plan to improve your program. Set lofty yet achievable goals. For example: Year 1:
- Establish a unifying theme unique to the school and year.
- Commit to elimination of posed photographs.
- Cover every school activity with a photographer.
- Write a caption with first and last names for every person.
- Use yearbook company pre-designed layouts to include stories within each section of the yearbook.
5. Gather resources. Again, start with a yearbook publishing company. They will provide worksheets, handouts and software plug-ins that will guide your students. Invest in a classroom set of textbooks or journalism resources. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
6. Have fun! (Yes, I used the exclamation point on purpose.) Middle school journalism students have more enthusiasm and energy for the task than can be imagined. They will need a great deal of guidance and encouragement, but they will eagerly work as many hours as it takes to get the job completed.
I never had a high school journalism class beg me for a workday during winter break. My middle school students ask for at least two every year. There truly is a legitimate middle way for journalism between the elementary and high school level. Jump on board and help forge the tradition!