Journalism makes better students

The relentless news of layoffs and falling earnings at media companies may make skeptics question the value of journalism education. Two recent studies make a persuasive case for why scholastic journalism still makes a difference.In July, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released a summary of findings by researchers at the University of Connecticut and the University of Maryland, who interviewed more than 100,000 high school students about their attitudes toward the First Amendment.The authors found that understanding of, and support for, freedom of speech went up significantly with students’ use of online media, both by blogging and by reading Web-based news sources. Their findings will be published in the forthcoming book, Future of the First Amendment: The Digital Media, Civic Education and Free Expression Rights in the Nation’s High Schools.The Knight-funded study reinforces the findings of a report released in May by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation. Indiana University researcher Jack Dvorak studied the academic achievement of more than 31,000 students nationwide.The NAAF research found that students on the staff of high school newspapers or yearbooks performed meaningfully better than non-participants in their aggregate scores on the ACT college entrance exam, high school grade-point average, and first-year college grades. The full text of Dvorak’s report, High School Journalism Matters: Journalism Student Academic Performance in the 21st Century, is available here.These findings make it all the more shameful that some school administrators are working so hard to make journalism unappealing and unrewarding. As you will read in our cover story, some extremists are urging the federal courts to ignore 40 years of legal precedent and rule that students have no First Amendment right to blog about their schools, even outside of school on their own time, if they can anticipate that their comments will arouse discussion at school.The SPLC is working to convince the courts to reject this dangerous power grab by a small minority of bad administrators who put the PR image of their schools ahead of their students’ best interests.Instead of squelching young people’s interest in discussing the issues that affect their lives, officials should heed the findings of these authoritative studies and nurture students’ enthusiasm for reading and writing, even if that means tolerating a little dissent — which, after all, is the reason we have a First Amendment.