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And the definition for ‘responsible’ is…

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The JEAHELP list had a post last week that included a statement the Scholastic Press Rights Commission has been ready to address from more than a year. It came in a message from Gloria Olman, retired adviser and former Dow Jones Newspaper Fund High School Journalism Teacher of the Year.

Olman was trying to help a retired math teacher who had been advising an after-school paper. The district superintendent objected to several letters to the editor complaining about cafeteria food. Olman wrote that the adviser was upset because she had been told “if we continued to print negative letters, then we just won’t be allowed to print any letters at all.  Period!”

When the adviser questioned students not being able to express their opinions, she was told it was an “informational paper”‘ only and further that she “needed to teach ‘responsible journalism.'”

Responsible journalism. How that superintendent defines it and how a knowledgeable journalism teacher defines it appear to be two totally different things.  “Happy talk” and only good news isn’t responsible, not unless this school is somewhere over the rainbow with nothing bad ever happening. What IS wrong with the cafeteria food? What were the letter-writers concerned about? And what else could be wrong in a district with an administrator who doesn’t value free speech?

Even though the adviser was pretty sure the superintendent wouldn’t read anything long or complicated explaining the value of letters with all sorts of opinions, it might be good if she read the Press Rights Commission definition of “responsible journalism. It contains six principles that should be the basis for dialogue necessary to help everyone in a school get on the same page about student media:

  • Establish policies to aid in thorough, accurate and effective reporting.
  • Apply critical thinking and decision-making skills so students become more productive future citizens.
  • Empower advisers using professionally oriented and substantive curriculum.
  • Maintain open lines of communication between students, teachers, administrators and community members.
  • Report accurately and thoroughly, using a range of diverse and qualified sources.
  • Operate media that report information in verbal and visual context, enhancing comprehension and the greater good for all communities.

Would that allow for letters about cafeteria food? Yes. Does it describe a program where students learn and grow as journalists? Yes.

That sounds pretty responsible to me. Do you think this Michigan superintendent would agree?

Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

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