Posts made in October, 2009

Merit Pay Problem


Every one agrees that great teachers need recognition and deserve to be paid more than less skillful educators. The big problem with merit pay is who decides which teachers deserve it. That is especially true when it comes to journalism teachers.
Great advisers are too often not appreciated by their supervising administrators who fear critical phone calls when students do investigative reporting even when that reporting is responsibly done.
We had a case in Washington state where a teacher received a poor evaluation from her principal even though she had been named teacher of the year by the community. That principal was upset over a critical cartoon in the open forum school newspaper.
Administrators already have a great deal of power over their teaching staff and some choose to use it to control the content of student publications. Merit pay would increase that power if administration evaluations are its basis.
Does anyone have a better idea of how we could reward great advisers without involving these arbitrary evaluations?

Fern Valentine, MJE

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Looking for your thoughts on what principals need to know about journalism


Suppose you were in the position to help administrators better understand journalism, its roles, its value and importance. What would you want to have available in the way of materials and information in the following areas:

• Certification and adviser training

• Curriculum

• Professional standards

• “Responsible journalism”

• Legal and ethical issues

• Newspaper/print journalism

• Yearbook journalism

• Broadcast journalism

• Online journalism

• Other

Help us put together packets for a major project to do just that. What worked with your administrators? What do you wish you had available?

Leave your comments here or open a discussion. We are looking for many points of view.

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A process for developing editorial policies that mean something


Editorial policies are among the most important documents advisers and their students will create. Done correctly, they will protect you and your students, your administrators and your school system against unwanted legal issues.

The first educational mission for all schools:  To develop responsible citizens through enabling critical thinking and empowering student decision making.

Done incorrectly, policies will lead to such unwanted legal issues. Past experiences show sound policies are well worth the time and energy it takes to develop then.

Steps to develop policies include:

• Research

• Study

• Practice



  1. The SPLC for policy models and articles about them
  2. The Internet for sample school policies
  3. The Internet for articles of the value of publications or editorial policies
  4. Provided links and articles from JEA’s Press Rights Commission, including JEA Model Policy and others
  5. Research data and academic studies for research into editorial policies
  6. Specific administration organization Web sites
  7. Search terms can include:

• Editorial policies
• Publications policies
• Staff policies

  1. Conduct interviews with those have are familiar with sound policies and those who have had issues with weaker ones. Some of the stronger policies can be found here .


  1. Examine gathered material. What makes policies acceptable? Unacceptable?
  2. Based on readings or examination of  a PowerPoint included on editorial policies, what topics or concepts need to be included in acceptable policies? Which ones should be avoided?
  3. Compile arguments for and against concepts and specific wording
  4. Evaluate selected points for strengths and weaknesses
  5. Outline acceptable policy sections and points. Reference models your work should be based on
  6. Evaluate your outline in separate groups and set up a process to complete the next steps


  1. Evaluate a draft policy for effectiveness and completeness
  2. Compare your draft policy with other student media policies
  3. Identify and communicate with scholastic media experts and legal experts about the effectiveness of the draft.

This process is a good start in the creation of or adaption of effective policies.

Journalism provides us with something unique to a culture – independent, reliable, accurate and comprehensive information that citizens require to be free. Anything else – from review to censorship – subverts democratic culture.

The Elements of Journalism
Kovach and Rosenstiel

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Develop strong, local story ideas to show what you can do


Good story ideas are always needed, especially those that will lead to good investigative reporting.   Students learn the most when they are on the track of a great story.   However, investigative reporting is often the most controversial and can lead to censorship problems.

Establishing a record of doing great responsible investigative reporting on subjects less controversial (at least to the administration) can provide lots of ammunition when you are fighting for the right to report something they would rather not read about.

Students not insured for health problems is a hot issue right now and one that shouldn’t cause censorship problems.   Everyone agrees it is a problem.

Teenage gambling and the problems it can lead to are another issue in the news at least here in Washington state where the state gambling commission has even sponsored a contest for student newspaper stories about it.

Responsible reporting is not easy but indepth stories are always of top interest to your readers.   Lots of sources are available on the internet, but localizing is essential.   One of the things students learn in journalism classes, and no where else, is how to interview local sources to make their stories really grab their readers.

If the subject could be embarrassing to the students interviewed, be sure to always check out use of names with the SPLC to make sure you won’t have problems there.

Show your administration that your students are responsible journalists and, hopefully, they will concern themselves less on interfering with the great learning environment you have worked so hard to nurture.

Fern Valentine, MJE

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Questions for those who prior review


Because of a recent outbreak of situations affecting advisers’ jobs, JEA suggests anyone faced with prior review ask administrators the following questions:

• How does prior review help students learn and advisers practice journalism?

• What is the purpose of the review? To prevent misinformation? To protect the school’s image? To enhance student learning? To provide accurate information to the school’s communities (including voters)? Which of the reasons given for review are educationally valid, fitting within Hazelwood’s framework?

• What happens after review? Deletion of all or part of a story? If deletion, or telling students to remove copy or change it, how does this affect the truthful and accurate reporting a school’s community should expect from its media?

• Would this review be better carried out by students trained in journalism? What skills (and motives) do administrators bring to the review? How does review affect the school’scurriculum, especially student learning? Does review provide the lessons curriculum intended?

• How does administrator review of student work affect the school’s liability? Does administrative or faculty review, since the reviewers are agents of the state, reflect our democratic traditions and heritage? Does review change how community members perceive the truth?

• Isn’t there a better way?

JEA understands not all advisers are permitted to practice without review and restraint. We understand it is often hard for teachers to fight it. We know the pressures that can be brought to bear on jobs. All we ask is advisers and teachers do the best they can to show the educational weakness and lack of logic in prior review. We know teachers sometimes have no choice, no alternative.

But it is up to all of us, as JEA members, to try to create this alternative.

Maybe we ought to look at prior review in terms of ethics, not law. Ethics works best in right versus right situations.

There is no right to prior review.

There is right in letting students makes decisions and thinking critically. Let’s keep working on ways to insist administrators and those who favor limiting student growth through prior review hear more of this viewpoint.

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