TOY Austin says advisers must embrace change

Ellen Austin, left, makes a point at the Capital Teach-In.

Ellen Austin, left, makes a point at the Capital Teach-In. (Photo by David W. Bulla)

By David W. Bulla

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year Ellen Austin says that if you look at a map of scholastic journalism programs that have gone extinct in the last three and a half decades, it looks like darkness overtaking light.

“We need to re-light those lights,” she told participants in the AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Division Capital Teach-In at George Washington University on Wednesday.

Austin taught at Palo Alto High School in California from 2007 to 2013. There she founded and advised The Viking, a student-run sports magazine.

“We need to invite readers to our publications,” she said. “You have to give them reasons to come to them.”

About half of the students at Paly, as the school is called, play sports, and that meant there were a lot of stories not being told in the tradition set up of student newspapers with only a page or two of each edition devoted to sports.

The Viking started in 2007 as a print publication. Now it is both a print and online enterprise that takes advantage of digital technology and social media. She calls all the technology changes advisers and student face a tsunami, but she encouraged the teachers at the GWU workshop to embrace the changes.

And this can be difficult because students are natives of a world with smart phones, Google, an on-demand attitude and social media, but advisers grew up in a world dominated by television, landline telephones and reading tradition print media in our free time.

Austin said that one thing she and her students have discovered is keeping names simple and consistent. Whatever your name is on Twitter, that’s what it should be on email or Instagram.

How do teachers and students manage the intense work flow of 21st-Century journalism?

“Adapt one new thing every year,” Austin said.

For example, based on the example of Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and, she encouraged her students to try long-form features one year.

The Minnesota native also said it is important to “defeat the yabbits,” which happens when students don’t want to do something because the assume it can’t be done.

“The yabbits are deadline,” she said.

ellen 2

Ellen Austin

Usually, this happens when it comes to getting access, interviewing someone in a position of authority or dealing with new software.

“They are terrified to fail,” she said. “If you do something wrong, they think, you will fail at life.”

Austin also worries about students burning out because he program is so demanding.

“Make sure the work is evenly dispersed,” she said. “And your editor need time off.”

Finally, she remarked that the journalism classroom today is omnipresent.

“Write anywhere, shoot anywhere and publish anywhere,” she said.

After seven years at Paly, Austin will begin as the director of journalism at the Harker School in San Jose, Calif., this fall.


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