Diana Mitsu Klos talks with Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte about her new role as the National Scholastic Press Association’s executive director.
Frank LoMonte: Hi and welcome to another monthly edition of the Student Press Law Center podcast. I’m Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which for almost 40 years has been a non-profit advocate for the rights of student journalists. Every month, we get together to talk about developments affecting the rights and responsibilities of young journalists and in addition to this podcast, you can find out much more about our work and about the issues of concern to young journalists at www.splc.org. Our guest today is Diana Mitsu Klos, she is as of the first of November, the new executive director at two terrific organizations, the NSPA, National Scholastic Press, and the ACP, Associated Collegiate Press. And, while, journalists are good at an awful lot of things, one thing that they’re not always so great at is recognizing themselves and patting themselves on the back. Many times they let their accomplishments go under appreciated by the public and that’s why organizations like ACP and NSPA are so very valuable because they do hold up the very best in student journalism for the public to see and to appreciate and to value. Since 1927, I believe, the NSPA has been offering the Pacemaker awards, which are known in the field as the Pulitzer Prizes of student journalism. And these organizations are just terribly, terribly fortunate to have something of the quality and the depth of experience of Diana Mitsu Klos, their director. I’ve known her through her work with the American Society of News Editors, where she ran their high school journalism program, which was so instrumental in getting hundreds and hundreds of newspapers launched online. Before that, before her work with ASNE, she worked in daily newsrooms as a reporter and an editor and she brings such a wealth of experience to this position and in fact was on the national board of the NSPA before stepping down to apply for the executive director position. So, we’re really delighted to have her join us for a conversation today and welcome Diana. And, just is there anything else that you would like to introduce about yourself or about the organizations?
Diana Mitsu Klos: Well, I’ve been involved with student media since high school when a friend and I began the first student newspaper at City Honors School in Buffalo, New York. It was called The Orion; there was no prior review. We were able to run it off on a mimeograph machine and sell it for a nickel. And we were able to sell it out each and every time. And I look back on that as one of the most valuable, and for me, formative, experiences as a young person, as a student. It was an important part of my education. And, to this day, journalism informs all of us as a society, but I often think it’s underestimated as a teaching tool.
Frank LoMonte: Oh, no doubt about that. And, that’s actually one of the things that I wanted to touch on. It is a really, really trying time for the profession of journalism and in some ways, those same forces that are buffeting the profession are being felt at the school level. Certainly, we’ve got college newspapers that are not making the revenue that they used to make, maybe not having the pickups and the reach that they used to have in an earlier day. Financial pressures undoubtedly are being felt at the high school level. At least anecdotally, there is some evidence of schools doing away with the print product or maybe doing away with journalism all together. But at the same time, you see some awfully good examples of student journalism out there. And you especially see them through the awards that the NSPA and the ACP administer. So, what’s the state of student journalism? How do you see the landscape? How do you see the field?
Diana Mitsu Klos: My view is that while there are, as you mentioned, tremendous challenges in the operating model for commercial media, but there are also tremendous opportunities both for new journalists who are entering the field and for both collegiate and scholastic publications. As you mentioned, it’s been a very difficult transition, continues to be, for the commercial media as they look to what is becoming a variety of funding and economic and advertising models. The thing about the collegiate and scholastic press is, in many ways, the students can be more nimble. There is a greater opportunity to experiment with different forms and kind of look deeply at how your fellow students best consume news. Increasingly, it’s going to be on their phones, or it may be on an iPad or something along those lines. So, the hopeful thing is that I think the current generation of young journalists grew up as digital natives. And it just comes naturally, this instinct that well, we have to be able to deliver news and information, one that’s relevant to our fellow students, and two, that we have to have deliver models that make it easy for fellow students to consume media. The other thing that I express a great deal of hope about is that in many ways, there’s a movement nationally to look at issues such as media literacy, digital literacy, what most of us used to call “civics,” and you look at the teaching and hands-on work of journalism, that’s your greatest opportunity to really teach some of these 21st century media skills to ensure that young people can emerge from an educational experience in which they’re better readers, they’re better writers, they learn to communicate effectively, and most importantly, they begin to think critically and really think for themselves. And what this means in terms of both producing and consuming news, is the idea that, yes, there is plenty of truthiness out there, but there is always going to be a need for fact-based truth and good storytelling and conveying critical and important and sometimes unwelcome and unpopular information. But that the benefits of it, to both individuals and to strengthening this society, make it a real necessity. So I do understand. Most students who are going through programs now, and you know for example, if you’re say in junior high or moving into high school and you’re truly interested in journalism, your news organization can become a member of NSPA. And the great thing is, as you move onto college, if you’re still pursuing media, your collegiate news organization can become a member of ACP, which means that truly, between the two organizations, we can help young people and offer assistance to their advisers, to look at best practices, to look at ethics, to look at emerging tools and technology, and come out of this process either looking for their first internship or full-time job. Or, if they go on to any other work experience, they are going to have some of the skills that will give them an edge and help them be successful.
Frank LoMonte: You’ve mentioned something really important, both about the skill building and also about the civic engagement value of journalism. And, I wonder, because you have this role at the ASNE helping newspapers to go online, what do you see there because undoubtedly you’re familiar with the findings when Mark Goodman and his team at Kent State did research last year, sort of a census of the lay of the land of high school journalism. What they found is that even though over 90 percent of high schools offer an opportunity to get practical journalism experience, less than half of those are offering online publishing even though we all know that teenagers have no difficulty with the skills of online publishing. We know they’re comfortable reading and getting information there. But there are obstacles to making that leap to publishing online. Can you talk a little bit about that? About what has maybe held back the development of online publishing at the scholastic level and what organizations like yours can be doing to help bridge that gap?
Diana Mitsu Klos: Sure. I think as you said, students have, as digital natives, they have the instincts about how they’re going to seek out news and information. I think what often happens within the structure of schools is as there was once, sometimes, trepidation about ink on paper, and you could have outrageous attempts to censor. You know, for example, attempting to collect all the newspapers and put them in a closet or something. There are those who have the same trepidation, who realize that once something goes online or it goes digital, there is a footprint there that you can’t quite get rid of. Once kind of the news or information is out of the bottle, it’s going to kind of move on its own and be in that space. And I think in part, there is, that there may be some administrators, others in the education community who simply express a concern that it’s something that goes beyond their control.
Frank LoMonte: Right.
Diana Mitsu Klos: You know, understandably, the point-of-view may be, well we want to protect students’ privacy, we’re concerned about bullying issues, but the thing to realize is if these students are practicing journalism and seeking to adhere to the best practices in journalism, you’re not going to have those problems. If anything, you’re going to have these young people being leaders and taking on some of these difficult issues that may be brewing in the school community and helping form a sense of community to solve these problems. So I think this whole notion of, boy it was hard to control ink on paper, it’s even harder to exercise control in an online or digital atmosphere is one thing. I think the second is that many of these communities, these school communities, particularly those that are underserved are still struggling with the basics of technology. It’s one thing for all of us to kind of be on the front end of things. You can put on your computer and you can pull up your Smartphone and look at things. On the back end, though, you need to have someone who really understands systems and knows how to network these computers and install the proper type of software on them and have the accompanying hardware so that you can actually use this equipment consistently and productively. And I think what you see in many schools is at times there is a delivery of something like computers or other equipment. No one is quite sure of how to get it pieced together and make it useful and meaningful. So I think you have some of that in which you have school districts that unfortunately are way behind the curve in terms of updating technology, while both students and teachers really see the value of using these tools and are in some cases desperate for it. They’ll bring in their own laptop or pad or Smartphone just to give students this opportunity. And I think the third thing is, you can see this certainly in public education, that there is simply because of the funding base and the tax base for many of them, you have some schools that are reasonably well funded and you have others that are just terrible underserved. Many of them are in our country’s most rural and most racially, ethnically and economically diverse school districts. So that in and of itself becomes another challenge for all of us. So I think that groups like NSPA and ACP, Student Press Law Center and many others in this community of national journalism groups, I think we can see what the challenges are. What is means is we need to be far more effective at reaching into these communities, providing basic tools and best practices and also ensuring that, and this speaks to the survival of all of these groups, as you see the demographics of our nation change rapidly, we need to embrace all of these communities, because if we don’t, we’re simply missing far, far too many people and not providing those opportunities.
Frank LoMonte: Well that’s such a great argument, too, for that allowing students to publish digitally because certainly there’s a well documented digital divide where students in underserved communities, and these are predominantly inner city minority communities, maybe don’t have access to broadband at home, maybe don’t have even a good quality home computer or tablet at home, and one way to potentially bridge some of that gap would be to give the digital publishing skill-set and opportunities when you are on campus during the school day because you’re not going to get that when you go home at night. That seems to be a very compelling argument.
Diana Mitsu Klos: Oh, it absolutely is. And what goes with that is you see the momentum building in terms of technology getting better faster. So even a decade ago, you might be able to buy a piece of software or at that time a computer, and expect it to work, to function reasonably well for two, three, four years. What you’re having now is kind of a rapid recycling and disposal of this equipment as something new becomes available. And it’s the same with software, much of which is not free. So there becomes a challenge not only for districts, but certainly for families that are struggling economically or as families have not been able to adapt to a multimedia environment. These students are missing out and I think we have a real role and responsibility to help them become productive, to be able to pursue and meet some of their dreams. Because, again, like I said, many students who are involved in journalism are picking up a wonderful skill-set. They may not go on to be practitioners of journalism, but they will come out having a better understanding, especially in this digital age, of what it means to be responsible in what you post and take personal responsibility for what you post. That’s a very necessary skill right now; you just see far too many examples where, you know students may not be aware of what that footprint means.
Frank LoMonte: Sure, sure.
Diana Mitsu Klos: There was a story in The New York Times in that last two weeks about how now more than a third of college admissions officers say they have decided to put a student’s application on the rejection pile because they looked at the social media footprint and thought they saw things that they thought were just terribly irresponsible.
Frank LoMonte: Right, sure, and…
Diana Mitsu Klos: I think that some of those students, if they had some bearing and experience in journalism, they would kind of realize that some things are inappropriate or perhaps deeply personal, but there’s no need to kind of share that with the world.
Frank LoMonte: Sure, undoubtedly. And all of that background in not just the law of publishing, the defamation law, the privacy law, but the ethics of publishing, too, are so effectively conveyed by a journalism education. It certainly seems like schools that are beset by cyber bullying, by online cruelty, would embrace journalism as an anecdote to that, and we certainly hope that they do. Let me ask you, just switching gears, because not only is this a time of tremendous change in the field of journalism, but it’s a time of change at your organization, as well.
Diana Mitsu Klos: Yes.
Frank LoMonte: We know because it was just announced recently by the CMA, College Media Association, that henceforth in future years after the current contract expires, that the ACP and the CMA won’t be co-presenting their typical fall convention together, which so many college journalists and advisers have become accustom to attending. And so, there’s a challenge here for ACP to figure out I guess where you’ll present your awards in the future, how you’ll deliver training, what your proper role in the media landscape is with other organizations like the CMA or at the high school level, like the Columbia Scholastic Press out there. I know this is all very new to you and I know that this is a development that just happened. Any thoughts about the direction that the ACP is going?
Diana Mitsu Klos: Oh, sure. The circumstances and I think the outcome of the decision by CMA not to co-present with CMA after 2016, is really unfortunate. There’s a tremendous history between the two organizations, including that there are people in ACP who founded CMA. But, I look at these matters very practically. And while the situation, I think the outcome, are unfortunate, it gives us a really great opportunity to look at some of the things we offer, how we structure our own conferences and conventions, because you know that there are several through the year which ACP is the sole organizer, that includes our best of the Midwest, which comes up in February, it includes our national convention, that will take place in San Diego. And, I think this is a great opportunity to take some of the directions that our board has discussed in terms of looking at best practices, teaching the tools of technology, embracing diversity, ensuring that those who are practitioners of journalism are connecting with the young group of journalists who are entering the field. So, there’s an opportunity for us to look at new types of partnerships with different groups. We will have a convention in 2016 and the Pacemakers will be presented there. And I look to this as being an exciting opportunity. There are some things that we can refine, that we do that we can reshape. You know, like many non-profits and many journalism organizations, I think as you mentioned at the beginning, don’t necessarily do a great job at conveying their offerings and their messages to the larger student population, and I think that’s something that we can and will, you’ll see many more opportunities for student news organizations that make up our membership to both engage with what we have to offer, but to learn from one another, as well.
Frank LoMonte: Well, just in a minute or two that we have left, just any thoughts, obviously you’ve had to go before the board and be interviewed and lay out sort of a vision and an agenda for what you’ll do as the head of NSPA and ACP, so can you share some of that with us? What are you hoping to accomplish in your time there?
Diana Mitsu Klos: Some of the goals that I have as we move forward are to help ensure that we convey best practices, to embrace diversity in all its forms and do a much better job at reaching out to struggling news organizations in these underserved communities to help them become stable and to help them grow. Also, I think we can be effective at teaching and giving students the tools of new technology and how to use it in their reporting and conveying of news and information. And I think as well we can sort of teach the overall lesson that journalism provides the communication, the new media skills and basic technology skills that any young person needs to succeed in today’s labor force.
Frank LoMonte: Well that’s a terrific agenda and I wish you all of the best of success with it. I know and I feel confident that the NSPA and the ACP could not be in better hands and it’s just delightful to see somebody so deserving, honored with that pair of positions. As we sign out, can you give the website for the two organizations so that people who want more information can find out about the Pacemakers and about all of the services that the ACP and the NSPA deliver?
Diana Mitsu Klos: Sure. We are online at studentpress.org. When you get to that page, you will have a choice of either going to the NSPA site or the ACP, then it’s easy to bookmark it, one or both sites. I also invite folks to follow us on Twitter and to like us on Facebook, because those are two of the fastest ways in which we can convey information.
Frank LoMonte: Terrific, well Diana Mitsu Klos, congratulations and thanks so much for being with us. And for all of you out there, we hope you’ll also follow the Student Press Law Center on social media, we’re just @SPLC on Twitter, we do have a Facebook page that we hope you’ll like and of course, do take advantage of all the resources available on the SPLC.org website. If you’re a journalism adviser or a student journalist with any question about your legal rights, you can reach us by email at SPLC@splc.org. We’ll talk to you next month. Thanks so much listening.