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Faculty member co-authors book on high school journalism

Release Date: April 07, 2015

Cora Zaletel

Executive Director, External Affairs

Colorado State University-Pueblo

(719) 549-2810

PUEBLO – A new book by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Journalism Education Committee, which includes Colorado State University-Pueblo Mass Communications Associate Professor Leticia Steffen, reveals that the state of high school journalism is both better and worse than many expected.

“Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism” is the first comprehensive research into the subject in 20 years and is the work of 14 professors who were challenged by former SPJ national president John Ensslin to explore rumors of high school programs being shut down due to the mistaken belief that “journalism is dying.”

The book examines what is happening in today’s high school journalism programs and serves as a primer to help high school journalism teachers learn about the laws that affect them, how to teach journalism and additional information to preserve programs.

Steffen authored Chapter 11, which covers how journalism teaches critical thinking. Rebecca Tallent, the book’s coordinator, said that while high school programs are thriving, it is getting more and more difficult for school administrators to see journalism classes as a place where students learn critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative thinking skills.

“Working with a team to write this book was a wonderful experience for me,” Steffen said. “As journalists and educators, we each feel passionately about the importance of journalism in our society, and we hope that this book will lead to more support for high school journalism programs.”

Steffen said her chapter explains how the practice of journalism gives students a valuable opportunity to use critical thinking skills.

“The more opportunities we can give high school students to develop critical thinking skills, the more prepared they will be for whatever paths they choose to take into adulthood,” Steffen said.

A national survey of high school journalism teachers found many teachers believe they get little support from administrators and other teachers, but even less support from local journalists and higher education. Other issues revealed in the book include: Only 48 percent of the teachers had any journalism experience, and 70 percent were not certified to teach journalism; 75 percent of advisors either constantly or are sometimes worried about being reprimanded for their students’ work; 30 percent of school administrators maintain the right of final review before publication; and nearly 30 percent of teachers say they are concerned their programs will be cut to make room for more common core instruction.

The committee based their work on two previous studies: “Captive Voices” by Jack Nelson in 1974 and “Death by Cheeseburger” by the Freedom Forum in 1994. The work was a four-year effort by the committee funded by the Howard and Ursula Dubin Foundation of Evanston, Ill., and is published by New Forums Press of Stillwater, Okla.

To see the authors and learn more about the book, visit

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