Posts made in March, 2011

Professional allies against censorship


Those looking for allies in their fight against censorship should consider professional organizations.

Check out support the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists gave students of the Overland Scout today.

The Board of Directors of the Colorado Pro Chapter of SPJ wrote in their letter to the Cherry Creek District Superintendent and Board, “Specific provisions exist that allow for prior restraint by school administrators, including if a story is obscene, false or libelous. None of these conditions appear to be involved in the Scout case.” Read the entire letter here and here.

Scout student journalists have argued the school prevented publication of an article that could have been published under Colorado law, stopped further publication of the newspaper and removed their adviser. The school has responded with shifting positions but now says the paper will continue to publish.

Even as we continue to support these students and their adviser, we, as advisers, need to be conduits for the importance of student free and journalistically responsible expression. We must model it, teach it and lobby for it whether we face review and restraint ourselves or are pinnacles of freedom.

Start with administrators; start with the community. But no matter where we start, we must illuminate the fact that the basis of a continuing, intelligent democracy lives and grows with a strong and viable journalism program. It starts where students are challenged to think, to make decisions and to be responsible as they apply what they learn without prior review or restraint.

Anything less – anything – undermines the core of freedoms we say we cherish and those in other lands fight to attain.

Follow the Colorado situation by checking these links.


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ACLU challenges schools to remove anti-gay filters on Internet


E-School News posted an article today about the ACLU’s challenges/letters yesterday to schools who use anti-gay filters on school websites.  States included Michigan, Kansas and Missouri.

Check it out at this URL:

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Links to information about Overland Scout situation


Those interested in the censorship issue at Overland High in Colorado can follow the events by checking the sites below:


— As school backpedals, Colorado students still fighting newspaper censorship

Overland high school newspaper threatened with closure to survive after ACLU complaint

Colorado High School newspaper to shut down, principal didn’t like story about student death

• Denver Post

Overland High’s principal trying to stop the student presses

Overland principal not blocking student paper over content, district says


Colorado principal fires adviser, shutters newspaper

• Aurora Sentinel

Overland Scout staff protest principal’s moves

• Denver Daily News

A high school paper war

• Huffington Post

Colorado principal nixes student newspaper for knowing too much

• Miscellaneous pieces

Censorship 101: Angry Colorado principal shuts down high school paper

Scout article about the student’s death

Censor This Facebook page by Overland Scout students

45words comments

High School Newspaper

•  The Great Writ

• Fight for the Right to Write


Petition against censorship at Overland

The First Amendment blog



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Separating news from views: Does social media need a new player? Part 3


Determining what communities want and need in social media coverage seems to have generated a new media role: community manager.

According to information in a March 21, 2011, article by Ben LaMothe, Why Newspapers Need Community Managers on the 10000 words blog, the term may offer a way to brand online news coverage.

LaMothe cites the Econsultancy blog for the term and its use as a way to engage the community, set overall strategy and create branding for the media’s products.

Modifying such a role in online scholastic media might serve two essential purposes: differentiating between objective and subjective content and helping establish a “brand” for student online publications. A community manager might develop strategy for reaching and involving the communities and making daily updates: performing the medium’s public relations.

Some schools using the concept of community manager haven’t yet gotten anticipated results.

Meghan Morris, editor-in-chief of The Spoke in Pennsylvania, said her publication has an “operations manager,” but the role has not worked as she would have liked. She said she has found it hard to surrender the role. “In the future, this idea of ‘community manager,'” she said, “would be part of the web director or business manager’s role. Dealing with irate parents, facilitating focus groups or other ombud duties will remain the role of the EIC.”

Ted Noelker, managing editor of multimedia at Francis Howell Central in Missouri, said his publication launched its website and communications editor position at the same time to handle promotional aspects. He, too, said, he ended up doing much of the work of the position. “It is such an open-ended job,” he said. “It’s hard to cover all they need to so without being too narrow or too broad. It’s an important role, one that’s been tougth to fill.

LaMothe called the community manager a “must-have position” for a news organization. “The comments, your Facebook page and your Twitter page are all public-facing, and they deal directly with your readers on a daily basis,” he writes. He also says the position must be separate from the newsroom.

Anaika Miller of Foothill Technology High School in California agreed with Morris and Noelker about issues. “It has just become easier for me to handle public relations,” she said. “This works for our site, but in a professional newspaper, I bet the position could be utilized better if it were somebody’s focus/only job.”

All three referred to the position as one of public relations. Miller said no one at her school solely maintains the job because the workload is too light.

Minnesota adviser Jeff Kocur said the community manager role was similar in his school, with the editor using her Facebook status to push stories direct people to the publication’s site. He said he would consider adding a community manager position to his staff. “This person would be responsible for outreach and public relations in addition to writing stories and doing the exchange papers,” he said. “They would send out twitter feeds and facebook updates to push people to our site and manage online reader surveys. This would be an editor-level position, and they would still write stories.”

These staffs perceive a need for such a position, much as LaMothe and others urge. How the position is utilized, who fills it and what its ultimate role is, however, remain a work in progress.

Historically, a public relations role has been a hard one for scholastic media. Creation of a “community manager” might enable more community involvement as journalism grows in its use of social media. How that position develops and how it is differentiated from news reporting should be an ongoing discussion.

Ideally, a  “community manager” role should be cleanly separated from that of news journalist, including separate sources and posts for public relations and news. To ensure the public understands journalism’s varied roles in a democracy, we must be transparent about what we say and what information from each source means.

Accomplishing that may not be quickly achieved as scholastic journalism increases its use of digital media. Clarifying the role of a “community manager” or similar position is a step toward scholastic journalism’s successful use of social media.

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Incorporating ethical guidelines into social media use: Part 2


In the first part of this series, Marina Hendricks, a commission member and student in a social role of the media class, talked about how scholastic media might create tools in the growing use of social media. Now, others in the class offer additional comments and suggestions.

This piece will suggest guidelines – and hopefully raise questions – about principles behind such tools in three key areas: information gathering, reporting and promotion, perhaps the most problematic new area of social media use. Overall, students in the class say the legal and ethical principles guiding social media use are the same as traditional, or legacy, media.

Key areas students focused on and their comments:

Information gathering

• Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline.  Interview sources in person or over the phone whenever possible. Students would verify claims and statements. This includes crowdsourcing.

• Correspondingly, the instantaneous time element makes it more difficult to verify spot news, so be upfront about non-verified info. In fact, don’t run anything on social media students have not verified.

• Specific links (not just click here) should be provided to attribute the source/attribution for any online resources used or indicated.

• Be transparent with the audience as well as sources. Let them know how you contacted people, in what context you gathered the information and how you verified it (or didn’t).

• Student journalists who insist on avoiding social networks are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories. If all your sources came from the Internet, they would skew toward the more affluent and educated. When you interview people digitally, you miss a lot of good information. Journalists must strive for diverse representations of sources in their stories.

• These new tools can generate story ideas, allow readers more interaction with the reporters, and increase the reporter’s ability to find sources and network. These are certainly excellent additions to the tool belt of resources reporters have available to them to do their job.

• Social media will not replace traditional reporting; its primary purpose should be in making initial contact with subjects or verifying quotes and facts after an interview.

Objectivity and credibility in reporting

• When using social networks, nothing can call into question the impartiality of student news judgment.  Student media must never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. … This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online.

• Ensure informed consent. It’s easy for sources to misunderstand your intentions. It is your responsibility to tell them who you are, what you are doing and where your work will run. Take special consideration with children and other vulnerable people. When contacting children, make sure they connect you with a responsible adult.

• Breaking news posts – all news posts – must be approved by a student editor. No exceptions.

• The student media site will not publish images from social media networking sites.

• Typos, biased language and even possible outright privacy breaches posted by individual reporters, acting without a system of checks and balances, will call into question the professionalism of student media and challenge its credibility.

• If the audience perceives biased or unfair coverage, they will no longer trust the student media as news sources and the capacity for elevating community dialog to issues of importance will be lost.

Promotion of student work

• Professional material (reporting and leadership) should not mix with private or promotional materials.

• It is important and valuable to promote our work through social networks. Student journalists bear most of this burden. But the newsroom as an institution is responsible for some of this work. When promoting your work:

  • Be accurate. It’s easy to sensationalize or oversimplify.
  • Be clear. If you are not a good headline writer, seek some training.
  • Always include a link and make sure the link works.

• Journalists must recognize that everything on their social media has the potential to influence their reputations and by extension newsroom credibility.

  • Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your newsroom, even if you believe your page is private.
  • Use the tools, such as limited profiles and privacy settings, to restrict access to your most private information.
  • Recognize that your actions can be misinterpreted. You may sign up for a group to get story ideas, but people may see you as a fan. State your intentions often, in wall posts and other notifications. When appropriate, tell groups when you are signing up that you are looking for story ideas.
  • Manage your friends and their comments. Delete comments and de-friend people who damage your reputation.
  • Social media could also enhance our outreach to the community. Using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, we can push students to our website by letting them know what stories we have recently posted. We can advertise when we are next distributing our newspaper. We can solicit story ideas, invite letters to the editor, or request feedback while we are in the process of putting our paper together. From a strictly practical standpoint, social media can allow us to let others see the great work we are doing more frequently, and, hopefully, engage them in a more earnest discussion about our role in the school.
  • Social media opens journalism to be a more two-way form of communication.  Reporters can find the people they need and readers can interact with the people their story had an impact on almost immediately.  They may not like everything sources or readers tell them, but at least there is feedback.

Resources used for these points

“Social Media and Young Adults”

Newspaper social media policies: Out of touch

Journalists use of social media

 Using email as a reporting tool

Online journalism ethics: A new frontier

News organizations work to set social media policies

Online journalism guidelines: guidelines from the conference

A tip of the hat to these 10 wonderful students, all journalism educators or commercially working journalists, who helped sort through these and other resources: Andrew Christopulos, Traci Hale Brown, Marina Hendricks, Judy Holman Stringer, Trevor Ivan, Lori King, Kate Klonowski, Jeff Kocur, Dino Orsatti, Chris Waugaman.

What points would you add, subtract or question?


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