A legend in modern-day journalism died yesterday – Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today.
I’ve read a number of the stories following his death that talk about his life and work in journalism, but those stories haven’t talked about an important part of his legacy – his contributions to journalism education. I’ve been fortunate to have connections to several of his journalism education efforts.
Supporting scholastic journalism and First Amendment rights of students
The time was the early 1990s, and scholastic journalism was feeling the first effects of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court case that gave broad latitude to school administrators to prior review student media. The case stemmed from a school newspaper that the principal censored because the paper included a story about teen pregnancy and a story about the effects on students of having divorced parents.
The Freedom Forum convened a summit to discuss what efforts could be made to protect student expression. As the director of the Florida Scholastic Press Association, I was part of that discussion, led by Alice Bonner and Judith Hines.
Beginning with that meeting, the Freedom Forum put some of their top reporters on the story and published “Death by Cheeseburger: High School Journalism in the 1990s and Beyond,” one of the major publications to document high school journalism and, because it was published with the backing of Al Neuharth and the Freedom Forum, the publication — and journalism education — received a great deal of coverage.
Al Neuharth, chairman of the Freedom Forum, wrote the introduction to the book, talking about the key role his high school journalism experience had on him.
As several writers about Neuharth note in their articles, he was one to think of marketing to a mainstream audience, which is why he favored the title “Death by Cheeseburger.” The title of the book was based on one of the censorship cases discussed in the book. “Death by Cheeseburger” was the title of a high school newspaper editorial that was censored because it criticized the school cafeteria food.
Death by Cheeseburger, published in 1994, is out of print, but you can download a free PDF of the book — http://archive.firstamendmentcenter.org/pdf/dbc_text.pdf
Supporting scholastic journalism and training for high school journalism teachers
One of the challenges to scholastic journalism is having trained journalism teachers in the classroom. Most states have specific certification requirements for teachers in core subject areas, like English, history and science. But certification standards for teaching journalism vary from state to state, with many states having very minimal requirements.
The Journalism Education Association decided that having a national journalism certification program could help journalism teachers be better trained and could provide them with a credential that could be recognized in states that didn’t have journalism certification requirements.
Al Neuharth’s Gannett Foundation stepped in, providing funding for the newly formed JEA Certification Committee and JEA executive director Linda Puntney to travel to Reston, Va., to meet in the Gannett headquarters for several days to develop the certification program.
I was on that committee, serving on the test design sub-committee. We met at the Gannett headquarters, located in an office tower with a wonderful view of the Potomac River. As reported, the Gannet headquarters (later to become the Freedom Forum Foundation) were opulent, with original artwork, hammered brass sinks in the restroom, and a marble-topped banquet table.
We had meeting rooms, support staff, excellent meals, and we were in an inspiring location. Away from the distractions of our work settings and inspired by our location and the Gannett Foundation’s belief in our work, we created the JEA Certification program, which began in 1990 and continues to promote and recognize trained journalism teachers.
Providing education on how journalism works — and offering innovative interactive learning
The Newseum was Al Neuharth’s idea to create an interactive museum that would both document the importance of journalism and would help visitors see the behind-the-scenes of the media.
The Newseum opened in 1997 at its first location in Rosslyn, Va. When the JEA/NSPA convention met in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1998, the Newseum hosted an after-hours tour for those attending the convention. I attended the Newseum special open house and found it to be an exciting learning experience.
The interactive approach to many of the Newseum’s exhibits showed the power of what we now call educational gaming. One of my favorite computer games was the Be A Reporter Game, which let you work on a story on deadline and “win” by determining the correct headline for the story.
The game, which cost more than $1 million to create, is a model of the kind of purposeful gaming that education should be developing and using. The game is available at the Poynter Institute’s NewsU.
The Newseum now is located on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington and has expanded to include more exhibits, including a 4D movie on the history of the media and a powerful photo gallery of reporters who have been killed because of their work as journalists, such as reporting on organized crime or governmental corruption.
As I read about his passing, I appreciate that Al Neuharth had both the vision and the financial commitment to support and promote journalism education.