Textbook aims to teach journalism and news literacy to kids and teens — one comic at a time

by Sam Berkhead
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalism Basics

Updated at 1:58 p.m. on June 7, 2017

In recent months, high school journalists have made national headlines for pursuing stories that resulted in a principal’s resignation and increased scrutiny of school administrations.

At the same time, young people everywhere struggle with news literacy. Research has shown that many students can’t distinguish real news from fake news, or mainstream news sources from fringe outlets.

Half graphic novel, half high school textbook, A NewsHound’s Guide to Student Journalism aims to fill the gap of news literacy among young people while encouraging them to pursue journalism as a career path.

“Young people are being seen more as on the frontlines of reporting,” said Katina Paron, the book’s author and director of the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative. “With high school journalists in the news, students’ own work was coming to the spotlight, which helped people understand and see why it’s important.”

The book’s six chapters each focus on a different journalism topic, taking students on a journey into journalism's challenges, rewards and ethical complexities. With narratives based on real-life scenarios (one chapter riffs on the Watergate investigation, with a character discovering election fraud at his school), a cast of relatable characters and engaging illustrations, Paron said the book will break out of the traditional media education model.

“The comic book style helps conduce people into being interested in journalism, and they can see themselves in these characters,” Paron explained. “Not all these kids will go on to be journalists, but they’ll learn how the world works and their place in it — the book will help them be more civically engaged." 

Paron and illustrator Javier Güelfi had been bouncing the idea of a comic book-style journalism textbook for a few years. Eventually, they both decided it was “now or never” — that people needed this resource more than ever. Their Kickstarter campaign reached its US$17,000 goal in April. To date, the campaign, which is also sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund, has raised US$18,606. Paron said the project’s success shows how many people now understand the integral role that quality journalism plays in democratic societies.

“The project really tapped into the zeitgeist,” Paron said. “It was exciting to see how many people not in the field understood the importance of journalism education.”

Set for an early 2018 release, A NewsHound's Guide to Student Journalism will be available in both softcover and ebook format. Paron said the book’s anticipated US$20 price point — with bulk discounts available — was key to making it as accessible as possible. While it’s geared toward a high school audience, Paron explained it could also be used by media educators in middle schools and community colleges. 

“I have a high bar for teen journalists because I know they can reach it and shine a spotlight on their school community when no one else is looking,” Paron said.

For a sneak preview of the book’s chapter on plagiarism and fabrication, click here.

Main image courtesy of A NewsHound's Guide to Student Journalism.