Are high school journalism programs ‘still captive?’

University of Idaho professor helps edit new book for scholastic journalism teachers


Photo by William Love

"Still Captive? History, Law and The Teaching of High School Journalism" includes results from a national survey of high school journalism teachers.

SPJ press release

INDIANAPOLIS – What is the state of high school journalism?

A new book by the Society of Professional Journalists Journalism Education Committee shows it’s better and worse than many expected. “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism” is the first comprehensive research into the subject in 20 years.

“Many high school programs are thriving,” said Rebecca Tallent, the book’s coordinator and a journalism professor at the University of Idaho in Moscow. “However, it is getting more and more difficult for school administrators to see journalism classes as a place where students learn critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative thinking skills.”

A national survey of high school journalism teachers found many teachers believe they get little support from administrators and other teachers, but even less support from local journalists and higher education, Tallent added.

“Even if the student does not go into journalism as a profession, the skills they learn in these programs are applicable in any profession: business, medicine, law and many others,” she said.

Other issues revealed in the book include: Only 48 percent of the teachers had any journalism experience and 70 percent were not certified to teach journalism; 75 percent of advisors either constantly or are sometimes worried about being reprimanded for their students’ work; 30 percent of school administrators maintain the right of final review before publication; and nearly 30 percent of teachers say they are concerned their programs will be cut to make room for more common core instruction.

“Still Captive?” is the work of 14 professors who were challenged by former SPJ national president John Ensslin to explore rumors of high school programs being shut down due to the mistaken belief that “journalism is dying,” Tallent said. The committee based their work on two previous studies: “Captive Voices” by Jack Nelson in 1974 and “Death by Cheeseburger” by the Freedom Forum in 1994.

The result, she said, is not only a look at what is happening in today’s high school journalism programs, but also a primer to help high school journalism teachers learn about the laws that affect them, how to teach journalism and additional information to preserve programs.

The work was a four-year effort by the committee funded by the Howard and Ursula Dubin Foundation of Evanston, Ill., and is published by New Forums Press of Stillwater, Okla. To see the authors and learn more about the book, click here. The book is also available from the JEA book story.