"Civics" guidelines, for advisers

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This spring, the Project for Better Journalism’s collaboration project is focused on a core aspect of conducting journalism: the execution of a neutral and meaningful interview, and its incorporation into another work.

We've taken school feedback into consideration: the "Civics" project engages the local community, can be easily integrated into your curriculum, and teaches valuable journalism skills.

Students should identify an issue in their community, conduct an interview with a community member, and use the interview to write an investigative piece, op-ed, podcast, or video. The PBJ deadline for submissions is May 5, 2017 at 11:59 PM ET.

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Comprehensive student materials are available.

We have created a set of student-focused guidelines with helpful tips on selecting a topic and conducting interviews. Most teachers choose to print and pass out these guidelines to their students.

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We're here to help.

PBJ staff members have dedicated their time to making this collaboration opportunity a success-- and they are available via our Chapter Relations email for any questions.

What is the prompt for this collaboration?

Feel free to modify the prompt if it fits your curriculum better-- by introducing new requirements, constraining the topics, or changing the focus.

The official prompt is as follows:

The Project for Better Journalism is excited to work with your school to present our spring collaboration project: “Civics”! Have you ever wondered about the specific issues that affect your community? What do your fellow community members think about the steps that can be taken? And what role can you and your classmates play in exposing and addressing these issues?

In this assignment, you will have the opportunity to express your perspective on a particular issue that impacts your community. Your work will be published and displayed alongside the work of other students all across the country—and many of them will have very different responses that reflect the unique civic issues affecting their own communities! You’ll be able to view them on an interactive website.

Here are some questions that you might consider in choosing an issue: What local issues are you particularly passionate about? Have any recent policy changes affected your day-to-day life? For example, is your local government responsive to its constituents’ needs? Is your school making changes to policies? Is there legislation being discussed or implemented by your city council?

How do I assign this?

However you'd like. The student guidelines page contains information on the assignment itself, as well as instructions for submission.

We highly recommend that you share with your students the printable assignment we've created, which includes helpful guidelines on how to conduct interviews.

Where will the submissions be published?

Like other collaboration opportunities, student work will be published on a special PBJ website to be subsequently reviewed. You have, however, the option of also publishing submissions on your chapter's own website.

How do I integrate this assignment into my classroom?

Use this assignment as part of curriculum

We hope that this assignment will be a meaningful addition to your curriculum. We've taken school feedback carefully: this assignment has been designed to be relevant to journalism classrooms, and to be easily integrated into curriculum.

We expect that most participating schools will offer this assignment for credit or for extra credit. You are free to structure this assignment as you please.

Here are some examples of what we've seen so far--

  • Full credit (recommended). The assignment is required, will be graded independently by the educator, and may also be featured locally (i.e. on a bulletin board, in a print publication). Every student participates.
  • Full credit for some students. Journalism II students are required to submit, while Journalism I students can choose whether or not to submit for extra credit.
  • Extra credit. Students receive extra credit if they choose to submit. Some students may be required to submit. Assignments may be fully graded, or graded for completion.
  • Purely optional. Students are aware of the opportunity but are not compelled or incentivized to participate.

Note that journalism advisers are also free to extend this opportunity to other non-journalism students attending the same school. For example, a journalism adviser also teaching English classes can choose to offer this opportunity to their English students, or to the school as a whole.

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For grading, ask for submissions to be turned in locally

If you choose to grade this assignment, please grade this assignment at your own discretion. PBJ is not offering grading guidelines.

If you would like to grade this assignment, please ask that the student turn in their submission locally (i.e. to you). We will be unable to provide submissions back to journalism advisers. We are also unable to provide individual feedback, grades, or ratings.

Choose whether to have local constraints

We want to make this a meaningful-- but unobstructive-- addition to your curriculum, so you are free-- and encouraged-- to place constraints on the content, type, length, and topic of your student submissions. These restrictions are called "local constraints" because they only apply to your students or to your school.

Here are some examples of local constraints some educators may want to require:

  • You may disallow certain formats-- for example, video or podcasts.
  • You may require additional interviews to be completed, or require that interviews are a particular length.
  • You may require particular components in the interviews themselves.
  • Although we already recommend media elements like photographs, you can require that accompanying photographs be submitted.

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Make local constraints clear.

If you choose to add local constraints, please make those constraints clear to your students. Since we don't know what your local constraints are, we can't verify that submissions fulfill them.

What should the students be writing about?

Students will be writing on an issue within their community. You may choose to guide your students in choosing an issue. It should be substantial enough that students can write an article of at least 650 words or create a video/podcast at least 2 minutes long. On the other hand, it should not be so large that students cannot adequately discuss it in their piece.

Students will subsequently identify a community member passionate about or involved in the issue. They should then conduct a neutral and meaningful interview with this individual. Students may choose a controversial issue but you may exercise your discretion in advising this decision.

Can students work in groups?

Students can work individually or in groups. Because this project involves substantial research, we have chosen to emphasize the potential collaborative nature of the process of investigative journalism. You may choose to require students to work in groups.

If you choose to ask students to work in groups, you may consider establishing the expectation that work be split evenly, or consider assigning roles before students begin.

In what format should students submit their projects?

Students can submit an article, video, or podcast.

We ask that articles be at least 650 words and in the form of either an op-ed or an investigative article. If students choose to write an op-ed, you may encourage them to present a counterargument in order to strengthen their own argument. If they are writing an investigative article, you may encourage them to remain as objective as possible.

Videos or podcast should be at least two minutes long. Programs like iMovie can be helpful for students submitting a video. You have the option of instituting your own parameters if you assign the project.

How should students submit their projects?

Students should follow instructions on the "Civics" student guidelines page to submit their assignment.

What is the general timeline?

We expect to follow this timeline:

What?How?Suggested timeline
Assign.Distribute the guidelines and worksheets to students.ASAP
Submissions are openThe submission form and instructions will become available.By April 14
Review.Have students who are submitting projects edit them with you or a peer.3-4 days prior to deadline (suggested: April 24)
Collect.If you plan to grade projects, collect them ahead of the deadline.1-2 days prior to deadline (suggested: April 26)
Submit.Students should submit with your supervision or directly through the form.By May 5, 11:59pm ET
Grace periodTo handle irregularities and technical complications
related to submissions, we will contact students that
incorrectly or incompletely submit via the email address
they list on the submission form.

Those students will have 48 hours to resubmit. Note that
review of submissions will be underway before the
grace period deadline.
By May 7, 11:59pm ET
Special recognition.We will contact advisers directly if their student(s) have been chosen to receive prizes or awards.Around May 17 (tentative)
Results displayed.We will upload all submissions to our interactive website for public viewing.Completed by May 20 (tentative)