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A presidential tweet that can hit home

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by Stan Zoller, MJE
It was, for all practical purposes, just another tweet from the commander in chief.  “…Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

At face value you can say ‘well, it’s just Trump being Trump.”

But what if you got the same message from your principal?

You’d be outraged.  You’d post on the Listserv. You’d post on social media. You’d (hopefully) contact the Scholastic Press Rights Committee.

And you would be right.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

Before you start citing the First Amendment, take a moment to break down Trump’s post.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

First, take a look at Trump’s first idea — cancel all future “press briefings” – It’s reprehensible for any public official, let alone the POTUS, to practice a lack of public access and transparency, which is what the Trump administration wants to do.  Journalism educators can use this as the proverbial teaching moment – but not on a global level – on a local level.

If a superintendent, principal or any other school official were to tell student media  they were not going to disseminate any information, odds are likely  advisers and their student journalists would, and justifiably so, be upset. The challenge for student journalists is to access the information.  Using public access tools like sunshine laws and Freedom of Information laws is a great place to start. Administrators at public schools have a legal, if not a fiduciary responsibility to provide all public information to the media – including student media. Students and advisers need to be up to date on their state’s open meetings and FOI laws. They should also have resources of citizen watchdog groups that can assist them.

Taking a further look at the Twitter-in-Chief’s tweet, his solution is to “…hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy…”

Seriously? On a global stage it makes no sense.  It’s condescending.  On a local stage it not only lacks sense and is condescending – it’s offensive to not only the student journalists, but also student media advisers.  It’s offensive to student journalists because it says school officials lack trust in them as not just student journalists, but journalists.

The message it sends to advisers is that they are not working with their students on the fundamentals of journalism, including fact checking and use of multiple sources.  Advisers and students should have a litany of resources including fact-checking and news literacy sites. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at RCFP.org, Politi.com, FactCheck.org and the News Literacy Project at thenewsliteracyproject.org, and the American Press Institute (americanpressinstitute.org) are great places to start.

Advisers and student journalists should also be current on the status of New Voices Legislation – especially if their state has a Speech/Press Rights bill on the books. Full information is available at newvoices.com or on the New Voices Facebook page.

Knowing the law can re-enforce your right, let alone the public’s right, to know.  In Illinois, for example, recently passed legislation allows administrators to bar content only if “… (1) is libelous, slanderous, or obscene; (2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (3) violates federal or State law; or (4) incites students to commit an unlawful act, to violate policies of the school district, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

This raises the bar for student journalists to do not only their best work, but practice unrestricted and responsible journalism.

This is something that is to be expected.

By administrators.

By advisers.

By student journalists.

And you’d think by the President of the United States.

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