Nationally representative data show that former student journalists vote more frequently in their late teens and early 20s than their peers with no journalism experience. The study, conducted by Peter Bobkowski and Patrick Miller of the University of Kansas, also suggests that the civic boost from journalism is especially pronounced for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
This is the first study to document a unique contribution of journalism education to adult civic engagement. Several prior studies showed that there is a relationship between participation in school activities, including journalism, and greater civic participation in adulthood. But those studies bundled journalism’s contribution with other activities. This study, in contrast, statistically controls for the contribution of other activities (and a series of other potential factors), to isolate a distinct relationship between journalism and voting.
This study also shows that journalism is related to voting to a similar degree that taking debate and participating in student government are related to voting. The data used in the study come from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, a nationally representative survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
According to the 2008 book The Future of the First Amendment, students involved in the production of high school newspapers are more likely than their peers who are not on the newspaper staff to affirm the protection of free expression rights.
This study involved nearly 14,500 students from 37 high schools, which were randomly selected from schools across the United States. The study was funded by the Knight Foundation and conducted by Kenneth Dautrich and David Yalof of the University of Connecticut.
This research found that newspaper students were more likely than non-newspapers students to agree that the First Amendment protects potentially offensive forms of expression, including vulgar music lyrics and the defacing or burning of the American flag.
Newspaper students also were more likely than non-newspaper students to support a free press and the right of high school journalists to cover “controversial issues” without administrative approval. They were more likely to agree that Americans do not value their First Amendment rights enough.
Finally, newspapers student were more likely to express interest in “following the news or current events.”
Source: Kenneth Dautrich, David A. Yalof, and Mark Hugo Lopez, The Future of the First Amendment: The Digital Media, Civic Education, and Free Expression Rights in America’s High Schools (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008).
Researchers Geoffrey Graybeal and Amy Sindik conducted a focus group and a survey with high school journalists attending a weeklong journalism summer program at a university campus. Most of the 142 students who completed the survey (84%) reported being either somewhat, very, or extremely involved in the community, civics, or politics.
Focus group respondents perceived a reciprocal relationship between participation in high school journalism and involvement in community and other civic issues. Students reported that high school journalism programs expanded their horizons and prompted them to be more involved in their communities. Being more involved, meanwhile, helped these students identify issues and stories to cover in their student media.
The researchers concluded that “the focus group participants felt being civically engaged enhanced their journalism skills and made them more aware of their surroundings, which in turn gave them inspiration for ways to cover their local communities” (p. 42).
Source: Geoffrey Graybeal and Amy Sindik, “Journalism Students and Civic Engagement: Is There Still a Connection?” Community Journalism 1 (2012, issue 1): 29-46.
University of Denver researchers Lynn Schofield Clark and Rachel Monserrate interviewed 45 high school journalists and concluded that participation in high school journalism fosters in students a recognition of the community’s needs and how journalism may be used to address these needs.
The researchers argued that a fundamental skill that journalism students practice is looking past themselves and their immediate friendship groups to identify issues that matter to the larger collective. They wrote that high school journalism programs “serve as a form of civics education that is focused less on the content of most civics education programs and more on the processes of helping young people to appreciate the value in a collective rather than a solely individualist orientation” (p. 428).
Clark and Monserrate found that student journalists valued the experience of identifying and publicly addressing important issues, and that this likely contributed to the students’ civic development. Students, they wrote, “almost always discussed their work in high school journalism with a sense of personal purpose and fulfillment, a sense of connection to their larger high school community, and in many cases a concern for how the rights and experiences of those in their community were respectfully addressed” (p. 429).
Source: Lynn Schofield Clark and Rachel Monserrate, “High School Journalism and the Making of Young Citizens,” Journalism 12 (2011, issue 4): 417-432.