Posts made in March, 2010

Wentzville BOE meeting update

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Bedecked in their green Team McCandless shirts, a group of 50 or students, parents and family members gathered at the monthly meeting of the Wentzville Board of Education, hoping to have their voices heard over the censorship of the newspaper and yearbook at Timberland High School.

Those green shirts failed to bring any luck to Team McCandless supporters, as four supporters of Principal Winston Rogers were allowed to speak before the public comments portion of the evening was brought to a close. As the disgruntled group filed out, several remarks were shouted back toward the boardroom and the group gathered outside the boardroom. Eventually, the group was allowed one person to speak.

The assembled group chose Nikki McGee, the editor-in-chief of the Wolf’s Howl. McGee spoke eloquently of her experiences in Cathy McCandless’ room and of the effects McCandless’ teaching has had on her over the course of four years. After that, the group headed back out and began to disperse.

Members of the St. Louis media were there, with KSDK and KMOV both sending reporters. A reporter from the Post-Dispatch was there as well. None of those media had posted anything online as of this writing.

The general atmosphere of those assembled was one of anger and disgruntlement. Those assembled were hopeful that they were going to be given a chance to speak and when it became apparent they were not, that anger rose. Several parents spoke of the censorship at THS being extended to the board meeting. Several vowed to be back for next month’s board meeting as well.

What I took away from this is a couple of things. First, that it’s good these students have stood up for themselves. Would that there were more students around the country like this, we’d hopefully have a lot less of a problem with censorship. Two, that it’s going to take a lot to overcome administrators in situations like this. It’s not enough to be in the right side of the argument. When we’re fighting against this, it takes time and hard work and persistence and passion and dedication.

I’ll be posting some photos one of my students took at the board meeting this evening to my Facebook account sometime tomorrow and provide some final thoughts.

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Caution: revisionism at work

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Like the Chrysler ad depicting three cars with the narrator saying George Washington’s first car had a hemi engine, historical revision spreads into the new decade.

We tend to associate historical revisionism with changes made in Soviet history following WW2 and the fall of the soviet bloc when leaders changed historical and political concepts to reflect a then current political atmosphere.

Now it might be coming to textbooks nearer home.

According to a New York Times story, Texas’ board of education approved conservative-led changes to social studies curriculum that “will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks.”

The board, which consists of no historians, sociologists or economists, created changes to concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American revolution, the article reported.

Despite immediate concern over the effects in history and government classes, one must also wonder if similar revisions could work their way into how the First Amendment and freedom of expression is played in journalism texts and curriculum:

• That high school students have no First Amendment protections except those deemed appropriate by school officials
• That students have no right to complain about decisions made in their best interests by school officials because of in loco parentis, and
• That prior review is designed to simply make sure the right view of history is recorded.

After all, according to the Times article, one of the conservatives on the board said, “We are adding balance. History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

If that happens, Walter Cronkite’s famous close to news broadcasts will become “And that’s the way it was, we think. At least for now. Maybe.”

Yippee.

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Lighting the way: leadership for the future

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The New York Times reported on a crisis mapping operation involving what it called everyone-as-informant March 12.  The Times article reported the operation suggested a new paradigm for humanitarian work.

This project, shaped to fit the needs of scholastic journalism, suggests a viable paradigm for scholastic new media to lead, not only through content but also opinion.

Such an approach would blend the mirror and candle theories into one  tool rooted in a journalistic sense of leadership.

And that, said Jan Leach, assistant professor of journalism at Kent State University, former Ethics Fellow at The Poynter Institute and editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, is a perfect role for effective news media.

“The news media lead by providing information that can help audiences with the urgent and the mundane aspects of their lives,” Leach said. “This includes helping audiences make decisions on everything from candidates and issues to decisions on real estate, schools, movies and purchases.”

What Leach talks about would include:
• A strong publication voice calling for action or explaining issues and events. In a case like the Times noted, explaining why action was needed and how to accomplish it.
• Thorough reporting that explained the significance of the issues, events or problems and how to become involved and resources placing the events into perspective.
• Opportunities for involvement and interaction so members of the various affected communities could help each other or answer a call to action.

That fulfills the candle theory.

The mirror theory is also fulfilled through more mundane coverage of events, people and issues that affect people’s lives daily.

Leach sees a strong and active editorial presence as essential in this blended process.

“Newspapers and online operations that have regular, forceful editorial pages are providing steady, if controversial, leadership,” she said. “Those that are inconsistent or wishy-washy in their opinions are less reliable in terms of leadership. People look for the studied opinion, the additional information, the weighing of all sides.”

Let’s say during Scholastic Journalism Week JEA or another journalistic group (including a student one) uses the mapping model to track one day of prior restraint or review  across the nation. Students, facing review or  restraint, could publish to one core location details, topics, reasons given, and who is reviewing. Reported information could then be assembled and reported to give a national snapshot of issues scholastic journalists face. Individual student media could develop coverage to show the depth of the problem and take a strong position with national data to support their position.

The process could be replicated for any common issues or topics schools face. And, it could be reported and editorialized by scholastic media working individually or in collaboration.

In short, scholastic journalism’s obligation to lead is a function of strong content and editorial presence, no matter what media.

Leadership does not need to be seen as a piece of the past but as an integral aspect of journalism’s future, lighting the way.

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Team McCandless

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Wentzville Board Meeting
So over the past six months or so, the students and teacher at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Mo. have undergone some terrible tribulations at the hands of their administrators. Stories pulled in multiple issues, oversight of the yearbook, panel photos pulled from said yearbook in March, when there is little that can be done to change them in the book. The list of transgressions has been well publicized.

And that last sentence is the silver lining in this awful cloud of censorship. The students and parents of adviser Cathy McCandless have responded admirably and forcefully to this situation.

At last check, their Facebook group, Team McCandless, has 585 members. A Wentzville parent has also created a blog – www.stop-ths-censorship.blogspot.com – that catalogs much of the grievances of parents and publication students as well as encouraging people to action.

In meetings with administration, yearbook students are starting to see some victories in their discussions with the administrators.

And perhaps most important, they are taking their arguments where they can have impact: the board of education. This Thursday, a group of parents, students, alumni and teachers will be attending the Wentzville Board of Education – me included – in order to let the decision makers know their thoughts about what has transpired. I’m hoping to have thoughts on this site that evening, as well as perhaps some photos. One of the members of the Student Partners, Ted Noelker, will also be attending this event.

While I know this has been a terribly trying, taxing time for Cathy, it has to be heart warming to know she’s done a good job teaching her students about their rights as student journalists and, in turn, her students have taught their parents enough about their rights to, hopefully, do something about it.

After talking with Cathy, I know she’s somewhat hopeful the tide may turn back towards her students favor. Hopefully, a big showing on Thursday will help sway the board of education and district administrators to see reason.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall: leadership in the digital age

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Expanding scholastic journalism into the digital environment is like delving into the world of fantasy, complete with magic mirrors that enlighten and show implications for the future and connections to the past.

Our dilemma is how to decide what traditional journalism standards are worthy of transfer to the magical world of digital media and, in particular, whether those standards include editorial leadership and extended reporting.

It’s still the mirror versus the candle debate — should journalists simply reflect reality to their audiences or should they shine light into the dark corners and make their world a better place?  Our new tools — all those digital bells and whistles —  offer leadership opportunities  but also hold challenges to that leadership.

Even now, in digital media’s initial stages of growth, a quick check of school Web sites shows a number do not publish staff editorials. Some do not expand their reporting beyond that of  showing what surrounds them. What is reported includes cafeteria menus, game scores and requests to get involved in school activities. In some cases it’s even hard to differentiate between fact and opinion writing. The I dominates the we of editorial leadership.

JEA president Jack Kennedy said possible causes for the disappearance of editorial leadership in scholastic journalism could include:
• students are scared.
• advisers are scared.
• everyone is turned off by the proliferation of ill-considered rhetoric in the media.
• we (students and advisers) are not very comfortable with persuasive essay style.
• readers simply do not look to their own student press for leadership.

How these sites and online media in general will perform a classic leadership role isn’t clear yet. But unless we take time to address leadership issues, including those above or ones similar, scholastic journalism’s potential will be thwarted. The future effectiveness of student media may well depend directly on how they employ today’s standards in creating content for new media.

Should those standards be like the traditional mirror or candle, or should we create some new blend? How will student media lead? Or will they?

Part 3 will examine possibilities and offer some direction.

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