Posts made in November, 2011

Op/Ed Writing With An Ethics Twist: An In-Class Lesson

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By Megan Fromm

This lesson was inspired by the recent Twitterfest regarding Kansas high school student Emma Sullivan’s tweet about the governor during a trip to the capital. The lesson will take 30+ minutes, and students will need their own paper and pencil. Here are some links for background information on the incident, which will come in handy toward the end of the lesson.

Intro:

Ask students to discuss openly what things they may not like about their school (of course, remind them that they should be as respectful as possible in this discussion). It could be anything, but the point is to stimulate a 5-minute or so discussion (that will likely get a bit heated, that’s OK!).

Write some of their statements on the board (ie: the school food sucks, the principal is mean, the school doesn’t let us have any say, lunch periods are too short, teachers give too much homework, etc). Leave blank space under the statements, and after you have a range of claims, have students go back to the ideas on the board and write supporting facts underneath each claim.  These must be provable facts, researchable items of support that lead them to believe those claims.

Exercise:

Choose the claim that has the LEAST number of supporting facts underneath. Students will then take 5-10 minutes to write the beginnings of an opinion piece on this topic (some might write 500 words, but encourage students to get at least a couple paragraphs down—you’re not editing for spelling or grammar, but how they express their opinion using ONLY the facts on the board to support their opinion).

Once the time is up, discuss with the class how easy/hard this was. What kind of information do they wish they had to support their opinions? What questions would they ask to get more information? How seriously do they think the administration/teachers/other students would take their opinion, considering the lack of facts to support it? What other facts would it take to convince people of their claim? How easy/hard would it be to argue with the opinion you’ve established?

Now, after the time is up, pick the claim with the MOST number of supporting facts, and repeat the exercise. They are allowed to support their opinion ONLY with the facts on the board. (Note: if you don’t have any claim with at least 5-7 facts, provide a few more “facts” of your own for the student to incorporate in their writing.)

Again, once the time is up, discuss how writing about this claim was different. Was it easier (it should have been)? Why? How did having more facts add to their argument?  How do they think the administration or student body would respond to these opinion pieces versus the first? How easy/hard would it be to argue with the opinion you’ve established in this piece?

Takeaway:

Follow up their responses with a discussion on informed opinions, and the value of opinion writing when it is supported by facts and research.  This process is similar to how they should start writing opinion pieces in the school paper: it all starts with a complaint, a grievance, an idea, a perspective, but the professionals know how to support their perspectives with research, facts, and explanations that sound intelligent and insightful instead of whiny.  Their research builds them up, making it harder for critics to attack what they are saying.

Follow-up

Now, use the story links at the beginning as background information to discuss what happened in Kansas with your students/staff. Once they know what has happened with Emma Sullivan, have them make a list on the board of questions or facts that would need to be addressed in order to support Sullivan’s twitter claim that the governor “sucks.”  Imagine she were writing a full opinion/editorial piece—how much information would she need to know?

“Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Finally, (depending on your time, this could be a whole different discussion) discuss with students why it is so important that as journalists, we support even our opinion/editorial perspectives with facts and research.  Why do we need to be responsible and accurate with opinion writing? Why must facts be involved? Who are we responsible to? Emma was not a journalist, no one was counting on her to be accurate, fair, and clear—what if someone on your newspaper staff wrote a tweet like hers? How can journalists have opinions but still be respected, respectful, and responsible? What kind of issues should we consider in regards to our school journalists using social media to express their opinions?  The school decided not to mandate a punishment, but what if her tweet was a line in an article in the school newspaper? 

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Latest controversy reminds us of work to be done

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Never a dull moment in the world of high school censorship, it seems. The latest controversy comes from Bernalillo (N.M.) High School regarding a cartoon pulled from the student newspaper, The Basement.
As with many of these situations, I’m disturbed by more than one aspect of the story. To minimize my choir-preaching here, I’ll skip the disappointment about another principal shortchanging students’ learning by taking away their power to make important decisions regarding content. I’ll move past the part about students’ voices being stifled and the irony that the cartoon, now available online, will reach far more eyeballs than if the principal had allowed its publication as originally planned.

Here’s what disturbed me most about the situation: The principal “hosted a debate Monday about the rights of student journalists.”

I’m all for public discourse, civil dialogue and any kind of event that might bring heightened awareness to First Amendment rights. But it sounds here like this was a staged event, a la American Idol, in which attendees could determine the fate of student media.

I don’t believe the First Amendment is up for debate, but principals continue to argue otherwise.

Opening the conversation to a town hall-style debate reminds me that we need to do more to educate the average reader, voter, parent, legislator, community member and student about student press rights. We need to continue to raise our collective voices.

Here are a few suggestions to guide students and advisers in their brainstorming for 2012:

1. Host a First Amendment Symposium. The Indiana High School Press Association folks do a great job with their symposium and can serve as a model for other states or groups. Student media groups need to be the ones shaping the discussion rather than being the ones affected by knee-jerk reactions.

2. Go crazy with positive press rights propaganda. I loved the “Bill of Rights on a Stick” from the JEA/NSPA Minneapolis convention adviser bags and generally favor anything fun and interactive that might spread our message. Whether your students promote a free First Amendment mobile app like one the here (although it’s too bad it has so many ads), create a special First Amendment issue of their publication, design new T-shirts focused on the important decision-making skills from their rights and responsibilities, host a question-and-answer event at the public library or some other event, now is the time.

We have three months until Scholastic Journalism Week and plenty of resources at our disposal. Let’s share ideas here for how to make the next set of public events ones we host, ones that educate our stakeholders and ones that keep free student expression a priority.

read more

Latest controversy reminds us of work to be done

Share
Never a dull moment in the world of high school censorship, it seems. The latest controversy comes from Bernalillo (N.M.) High School regarding a cartoon pulled from the student newspaper, The Basement.
As with many of these situations, I’m disturbed by more than one aspect of the story. To minimize my choir-preaching here, I’ll skip the disappointment about another principal shortchanging students’ learning by taking away their power to make important decisions regarding content. I’ll move past the part about students’ voices being stifled and the irony that the cartoon, now available online, will reach far more eyeballs than if the principal had allowed its publication as originally planned.

Here’s what disturbed me most about the situation: The principal “hosted a debate Monday about the rights of student journalists.”

I’m all for public discourse, civil dialogue and any kind of event that might bring heightened awareness to First Amendment rights. But it sounds here like this was a staged event, a la American Idol, in which attendees could determine the fate of student media.

I don’t believe the First Amendment is up for debate, but principals continue to argue otherwise.

Opening the conversation to a town hall-style debate reminds me that we need to do more to educate the average reader, voter, parent, legislator, community member and student about student press rights. We need to continue to raise our collective voices.

Here are a few suggestions to guide students and advisers in their brainstorming for 2012:

1. Host a First Amendment Symposium. The Indiana High School Press Association folks do a great job with their symposium and can serve as a model for other states or groups. Student media groups need to be the ones shaping the discussion rather than being the ones affected by knee-jerk reactions.

2. Go crazy with positive press rights propaganda. I loved the “Bill of Rights on a Stick” from the JEA/NSPA Minneapolis convention adviser bags and generally favor anything fun and interactive that might spread our message. Whether your students promote a free First Amendment mobile app like one the here (although it’s too bad it has so many ads), create a special First Amendment issue of their publication, design new T-shirts focused on the important decision-making skills from their rights and responsibilities, host a question-and-answer event at the public library or some other event, now is the time.

We have three months until Scholastic Journalism Week and plenty of resources at our disposal. Let’s share ideas here for how to make the next set of public events ones we host, ones that educate our stakeholders and ones that keep free student expression a priority.

read more

The fight to save Seattle’s scholastic journalism: A good story with a positive outcome

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By Vince DeMiero
Nov. 15, 2011

Student press rights are alive and well in the Seattle School District thanks in large part to a savvy reporter, passionately vigilant student publication editors, thoughtful publication advisers and a student-centered superintendent.

What happened? In short, a terribly flawed student publications policy almost made it into the official remix of hundreds of policy changes and updates that the school board is proposing in Seattle. This same policy – known as 3220 and 3220SP – has signaled the end to a responsible and free student press in dozens of districts across the state, most notably in Everett and Puyallup. The stakes were high.

But this is a good story, one with a positive outcome for student journalists. A story that deserves kudos on many levels. So, applause goes to Phyllis Fletcher of KUOW who broke this story. Fletcher is a graduate of Seattle’s Garfield High School where she worked on the Messenger newsmagazine staff. Praise for the incredibly thoughtful young editors and reporters on the Seattle high school publication staffs who worked so hard to get the word out about this terribly flawed policy. Tip of the hat to the advisers in Seattle who provided appropriate support to their student journalists.

Applause, too, to Supt. Susan Enfield who really gets it on this issue and was courageous enough to step away from Policy 3220 – a policy, by the way, that the SSD did not write, but is one of hundreds contained within a template of policies from the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA). Frankly, 3220 needs to be seriously edited or deleted.

WSSDA does a disservice to its members and to thousands of students by keeping this policy in its mix of templates.

So, what’s the big deal? Why shouldn’t public school principals and administrators have total control over the student press? Isn’t it about time these student journalists learn that it’s the publisher who ultimately controls content? Really, who do these students think they are demanding privileges not even a Seattle Times reporter would have. At least those are some of the typical comments I hear time and again whenever student press rights are challenged.

To be clear, there really is no commercial or corporate publication that is analogous to a student publication at a public high school. I think this is why some folks raise these types of questions. First of all, student journalists must abide by the same laws and ethical guidelines as any other journalist with regard to libel, invasion of privacy, accuracy, liability, etc. Student journalists who I have advised have been served search warrants, subpoenas, etc. They had no special privilege. The newsroom that my students work in is really not much different than what you’d find at a small commercial publication, except that the editors, reporters, photographers, ad sales folks, etc. happen to be high school students.

But that’s where the similarities start to break sharply from those who work for corporate or commercial media. A true student publication, like the one I advise, exists because it is the collective intellectual work product of a group of public high school students. Its mission is to be the publication of record for its audience as well as to serve as a learning laboratory for the student editors, reporters, photographers, etc.

Importantly, unlike a commercial newspaper, a student publication does not exist to serve the interests of a publisher or shareholders. In fact, I would argue that the collective group of students is the publisher of a true student newspaper – not the

school, not the school board, not the principal, not the superintendent. Why? Because the work these students create (at least those working on an open forum publication) is the intellectual property of those students journalists; they own it.

The students I advise, for example, are in charge of the entire content, layout and design of their publication. The only thing they do not do is put the ink on the paper. Additionally, the publication is nearly 100 percent financially self-sustaining.

Some would argue that the school and district provides my salary, the building, the space, the heat, the lights, the equipment, etc. and, therefore, the school owns the paper.

I disagree.

In my English class, if I assign my students to write a collection of poems, even if it’s for a grade, the school has no copyright claim to those students’ work. The school district has no legal basis for claiming ownership of this type of student work, so why would it be any different with a co-curricular or extra-curricular student publication?

Or how about this analogy (credit for this goes to my daughter, herself a former editor of the publication I advise): Let’s say you decide to write a book, but you don’t have a computer, you don’t have access to the Internet, you don’t even have paper or a pencil to write with. So, you go to your local public library where you are provided access to a computer and the Internet, assistance from the librarian, and lots of paper and even a pencil or two. It’s nice and cozy and warm there, too, and well lit and free from distractions. It takes you a couple of months and numerous visits, but you eventually finish the book and submit it for publication.

Who owns it? The library? No.

The citizens who pay taxes to provide library services? No.

You do. It’s your intellectual property.

Similarly, the taxpayers in a public school district provide student journalists with basic resources, but neither they nor the school administrators who work on their behalf can claim ownership of the student publication.

Another important point to consider is that student journalists are in the unique position of having to rely on sources and report on people who are essentially their superiors – principals, teachers, coaches, district officials, etc. Additionally, in a public school setting, those same people are also government employees.

Is it proper for journalists to turn over editorial control to their sources? Is it okay to turn over control to government officials?

I don’t think so.

That’s why savvy school districts and administrators hire well-trained publication advisers. In my role, I am both an educator and an adviser – not an editor, publisher, censor, etc. I advise the student editors throughout the entire publication process and they have on occasion thoughtfully disagreed with my advice.

Additionally, when a school or district sets up open forum status for its publications, it is no longer responsible or liable for the content of those publications. In fact, the Puyallup and Seattle school districts have recently won major legal victories because of the open forum status of their publications.

In fact, did you know that no public school district in the United States has ever been successfully sued because of its student newspaper? Pretty amazing track record, don’t you think? However, lots of public school districts have been successfully sued because they infringed on students’ First Amendment rights.

So, is there any potential legal risk involved in having an open public forum student newspaper associated with a public high school? Sure, but that risk pales in comparison to other liabilities that school districts deal with on a far more frequent basis (athletics, transportation, discipline, facilities, etc.). Still, if you believed even a fraction of the scary statements I frequently hear from district administrators, school district legal advisers and less-than-informed community members, you’d swear student journalists were completely running amok.

On the contrary, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of your local high school publication or visit their website and look at what student journalists are doing today right here and across the country. It’s pretty amazing, really. And while it isn’t always great journalism, the vast majority of their work is passionate and clear evidence that journalism is far from dead.

– 30 –

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The fight to save Seattle’s scholastic journalism: A good story with a positive outcome

Share

By Vince DeMiero
Nov. 15, 2011

Student press rights are alive and well in the Seattle School District thanks in large part to a savvy reporter, passionately vigilant student publication editors, thoughtful publication advisers and a student-centered superintendent.

What happened? In short, a terribly flawed student publications policy almost made it into the official remix of hundreds of policy changes and updates that the school board is proposing in Seattle. This same policy – known as 3220 and 3220SP – has signaled the end to a responsible and free student press in dozens of districts across the state, most notably in Everett and Puyallup. The stakes were high.

But this is a good story, one with a positive outcome for student journalists. A story that deserves kudos on many levels. So, applause goes to Phyllis Fletcher of KUOW who broke this story. Fletcher is a graduate of Seattle’s Garfield High School where she worked on the Messenger newsmagazine staff. Praise for the incredibly thoughtful young editors and reporters on the Seattle high school publication staffs who worked so hard to get the word out about this terribly flawed policy. Tip of the hat to the advisers in Seattle who provided appropriate support to their student journalists.

Applause, too, to Supt. Susan Enfield who really gets it on this issue and was courageous enough to step away from Policy 3220 – a policy, by the way, that the SSD did not write, but is one of hundreds contained within a template of policies from the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA). Frankly, 3220 needs to be seriously edited or deleted.

WSSDA does a disservice to its members and to thousands of students by keeping this policy in its mix of templates.

So, what’s the big deal? Why shouldn’t public school principals and administrators have total control over the student press? Isn’t it about time these student journalists learn that it’s the publisher who ultimately controls content? Really, who do these students think they are demanding privileges not even a Seattle Times reporter would have. At least those are some of the typical comments I hear time and again whenever student press rights are challenged.

To be clear, there really is no commercial or corporate publication that is analogous to a student publication at a public high school. I think this is why some folks raise these types of questions. First of all, student journalists must abide by the same laws and ethical guidelines as any other journalist with regard to libel, invasion of privacy, accuracy, liability, etc. Student journalists who I have advised have been served search warrants, subpoenas, etc. They had no special privilege. The newsroom that my students work in is really not much different than what you’d find at a small commercial publication, except that the editors, reporters, photographers, ad sales folks, etc. happen to be high school students.

But that’s where the similarities start to break sharply from those who work for corporate or commercial media. A true student publication, like the one I advise, exists because it is the collective intellectual work product of a group of public high school students. Its mission is to be the publication of record for its audience as well as to serve as a learning laboratory for the student editors, reporters, photographers, etc.

Importantly, unlike a commercial newspaper, a student publication does not exist to serve the interests of a publisher or shareholders. In fact, I would argue that the collective group of students is the publisher of a true student newspaper – not the

school, not the school board, not the principal, not the superintendent. Why? Because the work these students create (at least those working on an open forum publication) is the intellectual property of those students journalists; they own it.

The students I advise, for example, are in charge of the entire content, layout and design of their publication. The only thing they do not do is put the ink on the paper. Additionally, the publication is nearly 100 percent financially self-sustaining.

Some would argue that the school and district provides my salary, the building, the space, the heat, the lights, the equipment, etc. and, therefore, the school owns the paper.

I disagree.

In my English class, if I assign my students to write a collection of poems, even if it’s for a grade, the school has no copyright claim to those students’ work. The school district has no legal basis for claiming ownership of this type of student work, so why would it be any different with a co-curricular or extra-curricular student publication?

Or how about this analogy (credit for this goes to my daughter, herself a former editor of the publication I advise): Let’s say you decide to write a book, but you don’t have a computer, you don’t have access to the Internet, you don’t even have paper or a pencil to write with. So, you go to your local public library where you are provided access to a computer and the Internet, assistance from the librarian, and lots of paper and even a pencil or two. It’s nice and cozy and warm there, too, and well lit and free from distractions. It takes you a couple of months and numerous visits, but you eventually finish the book and submit it for publication.

Who owns it? The library? No.

The citizens who pay taxes to provide library services? No.

You do. It’s your intellectual property.

Similarly, the taxpayers in a public school district provide student journalists with basic resources, but neither they nor the school administrators who work on their behalf can claim ownership of the student publication.

Another important point to consider is that student journalists are in the unique position of having to rely on sources and report on people who are essentially their superiors – principals, teachers, coaches, district officials, etc. Additionally, in a public school setting, those same people are also government employees.

Is it proper for journalists to turn over editorial control to their sources? Is it okay to turn over control to government officials?

I don’t think so.

That’s why savvy school districts and administrators hire well-trained publication advisers. In my role, I am both an educator and an adviser – not an editor, publisher, censor, etc. I advise the student editors throughout the entire publication process and they have on occasion thoughtfully disagreed with my advice.

Additionally, when a school or district sets up open forum status for its publications, it is no longer responsible or liable for the content of those publications. In fact, the Puyallup and Seattle school districts have recently won major legal victories because of the open forum status of their publications.

In fact, did you know that no public school district in the United States has ever been successfully sued because of its student newspaper? Pretty amazing track record, don’t you think? However, lots of public school districts have been successfully sued because they infringed on students’ First Amendment rights.

So, is there any potential legal risk involved in having an open public forum student newspaper associated with a public high school? Sure, but that risk pales in comparison to other liabilities that school districts deal with on a far more frequent basis (athletics, transportation, discipline, facilities, etc.). Still, if you believed even a fraction of the scary statements I frequently hear from district administrators, school district legal advisers and less-than-informed community members, you’d swear student journalists were completely running amok.

On the contrary, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of your local high school publication or visit their website and look at what student journalists are doing today right here and across the country. It’s pretty amazing, really. And while it isn’t always great journalism, the vast majority of their work is passionate and clear evidence that journalism is far from dead.

– 30 –

read more