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Revisit your mission to empower scholastic journalists


by Lindsay Coppens, adviser of The Harbinger, Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, MA

Hopefully your publication has a mission statement as a key part of the editorial policies in your staff handbook. Even better, this mission statement is revisited and, if needed, revised at the start of each year.

Who revisits and revises it? Not the adviser, but the publication’s student editors and staff. This initial activity of reflection on and brainstorming about why they do what they do as scholastic journalists is a key part of establishing their identity and purpose as a staff, setting goals for the year, and reinforcing their autonomy as decision makers and agenda setters.

Reading, reflecting on, debating, and revising the statement each year is a great way to bring staff together and can lead to impassioned conversations about not only their role in the community but also about what aspects of that role are most important (what should be listed first?) and even the statement’s phrasing (a natural exercise for budding editors).

This activity is an opportunity to look at the statements and goals of other publications, which reinforces the habit of studying other scholastic publications for inspiration. Finally, this group reflection and revision is an excellent jumping off point for brainstorming story ideas. A strong mission statement provides a framework for editors and staff to make informed and inspired content decisions.

For example, the publication I advise has a statement that was informed by JEA models, other publications’ statements, and their own reflection and discussion:

The overall purpose, role and goal of The Harbinger is to —

  1.    Report the news through accurate and factual reports, where information has been thoroughly gathered and verified
  2.    Interpret events and provide perspective and leadership on issues and the impacts they have on readers’ lives
  3.    Be accurate, fair and impartial in its coverage of issues that affect the school community
  4.    Cover the school population and school events as effectively and accurately as possible and reflect the culture of our readers
  5.    Be an outlet for staff members’ and readers’ views through columns, letters to the editor and online comments
  6.    Entertain and show readers the lighter, humorous side of life
  7.    Maintain professional standards and strive to report in a legal, objective, accurate and ethical manner.


So if establishing a mission statement is an important activity at the beginning of the school year, why blog about it in November? Because it’s essential to not pack it up, close the book, and consider it “done” once editors and staff agree on their goals. That statement of purpose and identity should be a touchstone, in fact something of a litmus test, throughout the year. Don’t bury it in a handbook or doc, but print it large and post it on the newsroom wall.

Whenever the staff brainstorms content and decides what to pursue and how, look to the mission and see how well those ideas align with goals. Use the mission statement as a checklist: make sure each aspect is covered and each goal realized in every publication cycle. Use the mission to guide editor feedback: If a submitted draft doesn’t quite fit with the mission, revisiting the core goals can help editors coach writers toward better angle or more thorough coverage.

If a piece is challenged by an administrator, being able to point back to the mission statement to show how that reporting or editorial supports the staff’s mission and does so in a responsible fashion can go a long way in defending against criticism or prior review. In fact, a student-driven mission and student-led decisions to support that mission are an excellent way of ensuring student journalists’ autonomy.



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