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A Great Time of Reflection: two issues for discussion and reporting by student journalists

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Two events are drawing a lot of commentary this week.

They are also great starting points for classroom discussion and student media reporting beyond just giving opinions.

One is whether the Associated Press should have published photos of a young Marine mortally injured along with a story about him and his mission. The other is the firestorm of opinion surrounding President Barack Obama’s upcoming speech to students.

Both seem to draw polarization and backlash.

We need to see them in student media and journalism classrooms as rational discussion – and reporting– instead.

First, the Marine photos and story really could make for exceptional ethical discussion (how you decide concepts like doing the least harm, choosing loyalty and meeting the greater good, among others). The dilemma transfers easily to scholastic media (do you publish photos of injuries and defeat or only victories?).

Second, the question of whether students in a class should be able to watch the President’s live speech also strikes at the heart of our democracy. If schools cannot openly discuss ideas and issues so they learn how to handle them, how to investigate them, then what is the purpose for our schools? How can students – and adults – know to support or to oppose ideas, issues and people unless they can hear and critically evaluate them?

If schools must first prior review ideas and issues of the President, ideas and issues similar to those other presidents presented in schools, what are students learning? They are not learning to think, to reflect and to decide for themselves.

It would be wonderful if, over the next several weeks, journalism teachers and advisers share how they – and more importantly their students– handled these two issues.

It would also be wonderful if student media led the way in substantive, digging and balanced reporting of these issues. Maybe then adults could more clearly see that student media can be responsible, accurate and thorough – without prior review.

After all, sometime in the future other students might ask their parents (our students), “what did you do during this Great Time of Reflection?”

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