September 14, 2023 / Idea File Magazine

Advisers Supporting Student Journalists: Opportunities to bolster skills and get recognized for outstanding work

Written by Timothy Cain, CJE

Coast to coast, yearbook advisers work tirelessly to forge relationships with their staff, teach journalistic skills, and model effective communication, time management and conflict resolution. All of these things are essential to produce a book on schedule for their school communities. If you want to foster and grow the successes of a journalism program, encourage your students to explore opportunities to hone their skills and build their portfolios by participating in local, state and national organizations. These organizations and opportunities exist to help you help your students build their confidence and scholastic journalism skills.

Knowing Who’s Who in Journalism

To start, contact your local news organizations and join your local/state journalism chapters. For instance, in addition to publishing my school’s newspaper online, my region’s local news collaborative reached out to publish a printed four-page paper once a month at no cost. My students report, write and design the paper while Derry News solicits local businesses for ad space to offset the cost of printing. New Hampshire Press Association recently offered the students feedback and recognized their work. Working with local journalists energized my students to become better journalists.

Author of A NewsHound’s Guide to Student Journalism Katina Paron, a journalism educator who has worked with teens worldwide for over two decades to get them published, encourages students to contact and join their local chapter of Society for Professional Journalists. The fee is nominal, often free depending on the state.

“Seek out journalists and build a network,” Paron said. “Most journalists don’t have access to teens and schools. Forging a relationship with them will help build a portfolio.”

A Plan For Success

Getting published beyond a school’s publication can be difficult. A first step, according to Paron, is to write a letter to the editor or an op-ed in a local newspaper about an issue that impacts teens. For example, reading a student’s perspective about school safety would enlighten readers.

Once your students write for a publication, work with them on how to pitch a story. As Paron explains, it’s not merely stating the topic of the story. Pitches must:

  • Address the newsworthiness of the topic
  • Reveal why the story matters to its local audience
  • Reflect that the writer has done some research

Another great group is Headliners in Education (HiE), and it’s free to join. The nationwide nonprofit, managed by Boston Globe’s John Vitti and the Watertown, Massachusetts, schools promotes and supports student journalism all across the country.

In fact, HiE welcomes students from all over the world to join its annual Headliners of Summer, a virtual and free student newsroom. Headliners of Summer provides a structure and format for student work to be published while their schools close over the summer. Students can cover concerts, interview politicians, photograph sports or submit anything else of interest to their readers.

Narrow Your Options

If you can only commit to one organization to support your students for financial or other reasons, I highly recommend joining JEA (Journalism Education Association). This national organization supports educators and students “by providing resources and educational opportunities, by promoting professionalism, by encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and by fostering an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity.” Arguably, JEA helps shape young people into creative, critical thinkers who know how to navigate the deluge of media with healthy skepticism and who have the tools to investigate and report a story.

As a member, not only will you as an adviser have access to a curriculum and resources that will enhance your students’ media-related knowledge and skills, but it will also allow your students to compete at the national JEA/NSPA fall and spring conventions. At these conventions, students compete in National Student Media Contests in areas of writing, theme, photography and graphic design, to name a few.

Attend the 2023 Fall National High School Journalism Convention, which JEA and the National Scholastic Press Association put on, in Boston, Massachusetts, Nov. 2-5 if possible. You and your students can network with other yearbookers, compete in the individual and publication contests, and learn in the specialized sessions with industry experts.

JEA’s “Journalist of the Year Scholarship” begins at the state level. Once a state selects its winner, the state winner moves on to the national level, at which point judges review the students’ portfolios before the JEA/NSPA Spring Convention. They announce the winners at the closing ceremony. Because this scholarship begins at the state level, it is important to contact JEA State Directors for instructions on state competition submissions.

Never Stop Learning

Finally, as advisers who want to assist their students in improving their writing skills, encourage them to read good journalism every day. Young journalists benefit by reading a professional writer’s engaging ledes, by their use of research to fully inform their readers and by the way they attribute their sources. A good place to start would be reading the 2023 Pulitzer Prize winners. Essentially, the opportunities for students to improve their journalism skills and participate in contests are only limited to one’s imagination. As Katina Paron commented: “Even if it doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it can’t exist.”

In her work with young writers, Katina Paron amassed connections to which aspiring journalists can submit their work. Consider these writing contests for teens and journalism camps to sharpen your students’ skills.



Want to read more timely topics related to yearbook? Take a look at the fall Idea File magazine online to see different stories focused on how to make your yearbook the best it can be.


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Timothy Cain, CJE

Timothy Cain, CJE, is an English teacher, as well as adviser for the Critic and Launchpad Pinkerton Academy student publications. He is also the JEA New Hampshire State Director. He loves working with student journalists telling thoughtful stories.