Media Critic
6:00 am
Fri February 8, 2013

Students' Voices Missing from Louisville Media's Education Coverage

Years ago, media critics roamed the Earth. Even mid-sized markets could support one or two columnists who analyzed how newspapers and TV and radio stations covered the news of the day, and how that coverage affected the community's understanding and perception of those stories. But in cities like Louisville, media criticism has gone the way of afternoon papers and Saturday mail.

So here we are, 2013, and who is watching the media? Well, starting now, James Miller is. Miller is a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School, and he's worked for The Courier-Journal and WHAS. He'll be writing monthly columns for WFPL.org about Louisville media. And WFPL will not get a free pass from his criticism. It's imperative to us that he maintain editorial independence. 

— Gabe Bullard

James Miller
Credit Submitted photo

More Student Voices Needed in Education Coverage

As a journalism teacher, I try to emphasize the importance of including stakeholders in significant news stories. For example, a story about cancelation of the homecoming basketball game ought to include the perspectives of the coaches, players and fans from both teams. Important political stories should contain quotes from elected officials, their critics (partisan and non-partisan) and their constituents. Likewise, stories about our local school system ought to give voice to all stakeholders in public education. But too often the diverse perspectives of students are omitted.

Local coverage of new statewide test results demonstrated this problem. The Courier-Journal’s Nov. 2 article contained no quotes from students. A WHAS story from the same day featured quotes from parents and Superintendent Donna Hargens, but no students. WDRB quoted two adults from JCPS, but no students—and a month later quoted only JCPS spokesperson Ben Jackey. WFPL also omitted the student perspective in a November 2012 story about testing and in a more recent story about test score improvements.

News outlets might argue that standardized test scores are complex and difficult to interpret, and so there isn’t much point in asking students for their opinion. But kids’ reactions and ideas are omitted from all types of education-related reporting, such as this WDRB story about a new JCPS anti-bullying policy, or this WFPL story about post-Sandy Hook JCPS safety policies, or this WLKY story about JCPS bus crashes, or this WHAS story about scofflaw bus drivers.

Every now and then it is possible to find students’ perspectives included on the education beat, such as this Toni Konz story in the C-J about breakfast in classrooms, this WHAS story about encouraging healthy eating habits, and this excellent C-J feature about a disabled bowler. But such inclusion is rare and seems to occur only when students are the subject of the story.

Obviously, it’s not impossible to interview students. Ben Jackey, spokesman for Jefferson County Public Schools, told me that all interview requests—for students or employees—have to go through his office, but only if the interview is to take place on school grounds during school hours. Other news organizations require parental permission before interviewing students. Surely these minor obstacles are no more difficult to hurdle than arranging an interview through an assistant or press office, which journalists routinely do when contacting executives, celebrities, or government officials. It can’t be that much trouble to include the perspectives of what might arguably be the most important stakeholders in news stories about education: the students.

James Miller is a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School. Before teaching, he worked for WHAS and The Courier-Journal. He earned his master's degree from the University of Louisville and a communications degree from the University of Memphis.