Posts made in August, 2009

It’s a new year – spread your reporting wings against censorship


As school begins, I can’t help but be excited about the coming year for my students.

Our newspaper, The Smoky Hill Express, has great plans to abandon the usual scholastic soft coverage of clubs and newsletter events and tackle more important news this year. In our budget are plans for features on alcohol sales to minors, our special ed students, and eating disorders.

Our yearbook, The Smoky Hill Summit, is coming off a great content year that included same-sex couples, teen pregnancy, drug use, and overcoming obstacles like prior arrests and childhood illnesses.

Every year, my kids are geeked and ready to spread their reporting wings and see how they can tell the story better than they did the year before.

But, I know not every adviser and staff share our enthusiasm. Far too many scholastic publications face pressure to stay away from these “hard” topics. And, while many advisers and staffs don’t realize it, this pressure is thinly veiled censorship.

Whenever an agent of the government – any paid employee of the public school system – tries to control the content of a student publication, either by explicit rule or casual pressure, this control is censorship.

Far too often, I hear student reporters tell me, “We could never cover that in our book or paper.”

If your publication is truly a student-run publication, then the students alone control the content decisions for that publication. Anything less is censorship.

So, as your staffs begin their training, budgeting, and reporting, make sure they know their rights. Students do not have to cave to the pressure of their administrators to produce only soft, light coverage. There is no “off-limit” topic for your students, and every story can be reported responsibly and well.

Some resources for you in this endeavor can be found on the Scholastic Press Rights Commission home page at and the Student Press Law Center at

Carrie Faust, MJE

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Credibility may mean less censorship


Although we’ve walked around the edges of this topic, no one has ever done good quantitative research on the correlation between credibility and censorship. Maybe it’s time someone did to prove my point….

If your students can use AP style and know the difference between a pica and a pronoun, do they have more freedom to publish what they think is important for their audience to hear? If your administrator thinks YOU have a good handle on the basics of journalism, know something about law and ethics and can model vital interviewing skills, does he or she stay out of the publications room?

Granted, some recent high-profile cases seem to indicate no matter how much experience or how many degrees the teacher/adviser has, some principals and school boards are not happy with hard-hitting coverage. But I’m still willing to bet that a little credibility goes a long ways to hanging onto student First Amendment freedoms. If nothing else, it helps bolster the argument that students are learning solid lessons and not simply filling publication pages with fluff. Administrators DO want students to learn more, right?

With that in mind, it may be time to consider showing what you know by earning the Certified Journalism Educator or Master Journalism Educator designation from the Journalism Education Association. These don’t replace whatever credentialing the various states require, but they just might be a little boost to show your bosses you know what you’re teaching.

Oct. 1 is the deadline to apply for the new and improved CJE test to be offered in Washington, D.C. in November.  To find out more, check the Certification Commission pages on the JEA Web site.

Clearly, there’s a good reason JEA has both a Scholastic Press Rights Commission and a Certification Commission. Each in its own way works to support journalism teachers and media advisers.

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Spare the budget axe: Don’t cut skills-building journalism


Budget concerns are causing schools all over the country to cut one of the programs where students learn the most, journalism.   Isn’t learning by students the primary goal of schools?   Students in publication classes learn not only writing skills, they learn to work as a team to produce a publication. They learn to work with deadlines and budgets. They sell ads. They learn computer skills.  These are sellable skills in anyone’s mind. Running a student controlled publication is like running a small business.

When they are given the freedom to do make the content decisions, they learn critical thinking skills that will help them no matter what career they choose.

Students who are given the opportunity to do investigative reporting on subjects of interest to their readers learn the most. Let’s face it, research for most papers in other English classes is done on the Internet these days. Reporters for a publication talk to people instead because they have to localize their research. Interviewing people about subjects they may not really want to talk about is a skill taught nowhere else. Preparing good questions, taking good notes, plus thinking up new questions when answers lead to other directions, teaches students invaluable skills. Researching legalities is a whole other blog.

We need to fight to keep these valuable classes alive by reminding administrators about what students learn there. Learning the most possible is what schools should be all about.

Fern Valentine, MJE

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Pennsylvania paper reports students, school “seem pleased” with policy progress


A Pennsylvania newspaper is reporting students of The Spoke and school officials at Conestoga High School feel they are drawing closer to an agreement over what student media policies will be.

Earlier this spring students and journalism educators raised concern over proposed changes in the policies which seemed to institute prior review.

Today’s article can be found here. A previous article from the Student Press Law Center can be found here. An SPLC podcast with the student editors can be found here. Stories from last spring’s Web site, the, can be found here.

Students started their own Web site to keep the community informed about the issue.

The Main Line Media News quotes a school official, saying, “I would say that the school board and district have always encouraged students to express their opinions to the fullest extent of the law and the job of the adviser is to offer guidance,” said Robin McConnell, the administrative liaison to the school board’s policy committee. “Almost nothing was changed in the policy.”

According to the story, “students are, as always, to have their work reviewed by an adviser, but changes made to policy would not add or change requirements.” The existing policy had been in place for 15 years.

“Conestoga has built one of the nation’s most successful journalism programs with no mandatory prior review,” said Frank LoMonte, SPLC executive director. “The editors, advisers and principal observe a system of mutual professional courtesy in which students give great weight to the school’s input but make the final judgment calls themselves.”

LoMonte credits progress made to smart, involved parents and alumni who appreciate the educational experience provided by uncensored journalism and who used the democratic process to make themselves heard.

“Results speak for themselves,” he said.

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Welcome back to a new school year


Watch this space as various members of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission will share news, ideas and comments starting this week. Welcome back.

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