Critique Training

There is perhaps no better education for advisers than to engage in the process of critiquing student publications. Individual advisers improve their own practice through the experience of conducting student media evaluations. Yet organizations offering critiques and contests often have a difficult time developing new talent, ensuring transparency in the process and providing ongoing professional development for current judges.

Under the leadership of Jack Kennedy, MJE, and Mark Newton, MJE, JEA hosted a gathering of scholastic journalism leaders in June 2016 to identify common criteria of excellent critiques and evaluations as well as outline the biggest challenges, inconsistencies and areas of need. In June 2017 a smaller group of JEA leaders met to continue this dialogue and explore options for a way JEA could help train judges and provide more support for both advisers and organizations offering critiques.

To this end, JEA developed a free online course, “Critique training: You be the judge.” The training takes between one and two hours to complete and serves as a guide to prepare advisers for the experience of judging student media for contests or critiques. Based on successful completion of the online course, participants earn a JEA Critique Training badge and are credentialed in the system, which includes being listed in JEA’s national judging database.

Developing a deeper pool of excellent judges benefits scholastic journalism broadly while helping local, state, regional and national press associations better support their membership. In 2018, participating organizations endorsed the following criteria for student media critiques:


  • Apply consistent and transparent expectations from judge to judge and entry to entry.
  • Include concrete, specific and thorough feedback based on recognized best practices.
  • Acknowledge and encourage the idea that the best student media programs are labs for experimentation. Students may be doing something that doesn’t adhere to the traditional expectations outlined in the evaluation tool. Judges should be flexible enough to allow for individual choices made by student media outlets in meeting the needs of their specific audience.
  • Contain specific recommendations for improvement to student media outlets in ways that improve low-performing outlets but also challenge high-performing outlets by providing next steps for growth of the media outlet.
  • Include both positive comments and constructive criticism.
  • Recognize that the realities of a student classroom experience differ from that of the professional media in terms of time, budget and resources available.
  • Address student freedom of expression and journalism law and ethics, including copyright, plagiarism and censorship issues that are apparent to the judge.
  • Address the most basic storytelling skills (reporting and writing, photojournalism, presentation, etc.).
  • Address industry-standard technical skills (software usage, media platforms, etc.).
  • Address targeted areas identified by an adviser or student leaders in their introductory statement.
  • Provide opportunities to demonstrate growth over time (year-to-year or within years).
  • Have specific deadlines for submission and be returned in a timely manner to provide useful feedback.
  • Be completed by a qualified judge.

While judging instruments range widely in their demands, the core principles of evaluating student media are consistent. JEA’s critique training addresses the role of critiques and how advisers — and their students — benefit from feedback and provides instruction in how to handle each aspect of the evaluation process. Successful completion of this course will demonstrate each judge’s preparedness and will help assure all stakeholders (contest coordinators, advisers and students) that judges have been trained by the Journalism Education Association and are knowledgeable about contemporary student media.

The critique training uses Participate, an online platform. Getting started is simple:

2. Click the blue “Join” button.
3. You’ll be prompted to log in with your Participate account. If you do not yet have one, click “Sign up.” Once you log in or sign up, you’ll be added to the community automatically.
4. You’ll see a welcome announcement under the HOME tab with some instructions — check it out to see where to head next, or simply look for the LEARN tab and head directly to the course. This course is titled “Critique training: You be the judge.” 
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