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Seems like you never know … until it’s too late

Posted by on May 20, 2019 in Blog, Ethical Issues, New Voices, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Candace Bowen, MJE Your principal is a good one who answers questions for your news staff and encourages your yearbook staff to tell what really happened this year. Even Twitter and Instagram have not been a problem for your journalism students.

Sure, you and your staff share stories with your principal when they cover sensitive topics. Yes, you’ve asked her views on quotes from other sources. So what? She’s a good administrator, and you’re just being thoughtful. What’s wrong with that?

Maybe plenty.

But let’s back up a bit. An early May discussion strand on the JEAHELP email distribution list centered around a former New Jersey adviser who is now suing her district for not allowing her to tell the real story about prior review and censorship at her school in 2017.

A junior who wore a t-shirt saying, in large letters: “TRUMP: Make American Great Again” in his yearbook photo ended up with a plain navy shirt in the published version. In the ensuing brouhaha, the district would not let adviser Susan Parsons tell the REAL story: New Jersey online said, “Parsons claims the district routinely forced her to edit yearbook photos to alter anything that could be controversial, from words on T-shirts to hand gestures to students not wearing shirts on a school trip.”

This time community members were so upset, Parsons received death threats and says she is now afraid to go out in the community – largely because she has not been allowed to defend herself and point out the true censors were administrators, or, in this case, she says, a secretary acting on the principal’s behalf.

The JEAHELP listserv posts that followed information about this incident covered a wide range of viewpoints. One said, “Prior review can be a positive thing in a friendly environment,” admitting, however, it is “a slippery slope.” 

Others argued the chilling effect of prior review almost makes it unnecessary to have true censorship – prior restraint – because students either are afraid to publish something they think might upset their administrators or worry that what they do will negatively impact their favorite teacher. 

Then one said exactly what I was thinking at the time: When has prior review ever been good from an educational standpoint? When has it taught good critical thinking skills? When did it help students become better media consumers or understand media’s role as the Fourth Estate, the very necessary check on governmental power? When did it lay down the foundation for future journalists, for those in student media who wish to have this as a career?

Then one said exactly what I was thinking at the time: When has prior review ever been good from an educational standpoint? When has it taught good critical thinking skills? When did it help students become better media consumers or understand media’s role as the Fourth Estate, the very necessary check on governmental power? When did it lay down the foundation for future journalists, for those in student media who wish to have this as a career?

But some kept arguing they had good relationships with their administrators and gave examples of times a really thorough discussion with the principal or others helped students understand a problem.

Fine. But that principal may not be at your school next fall. 

According to the National Education Policy Center,“Only about one-half of newly hired middle school principals remained at the same school for three years, while only 30 percent remained at the high school level for three years. After five years, less than one-half of newly hired middle school principals remained, and only 27 percent of high school principals.”

In other words, that understanding man or woman behind the principal’s desk may be replaced before you know it by someone whose legal training isn’t as First Amendment-based and whose biggest concern is the school’s image, not how much its students learn. 

Having a policy of prior review with that administrator won’t be a chance to discuss and learn more. It will be the very opposite of good education, but you’ll have little chance to change things then. After all, the prior review policy would have already been in effect.

Having a policy of prior review with that administrator won’t be a chance to discuss and learn more. It will be the very opposite of good education, but you’ll have little chance to change things then.

So don’t even give any administrator an idea to start down that slope.  It could lead to a law suit like Susan Parsons has filed. And, definitely, it wouldn’t be the best way for your students to learn.

A good resource to use:
What to tell your principal about prior review?

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When ‘trickle down’ goes beyond economics

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller, MJE
In recent history, the idea of “trickledown economics” is something attributed to the late Ronald Reagan, who occupied the White House from 1981 to 1989. 

However, the roots of a “trickle down” policy allegedly had its roots planted by the late humorist Will Rogers who reportedly referred to the theory that cutting taxes for higher earners and businesses was a “trickle down” policy.

While “trickle down” has seemingly been, as noted, associated with economics, recent actions by the White House press office, specifically White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, should be a concern to journalism educators.

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What to tell an administrator who seeks prior review

Posted by on May 12, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

The Porn-worker and Bear Creek High School

by Jan Ewell, MJE

The district administration of the Lodi Unified School District demanded prior review of a story the paper was writing about an 18-year old student, estranged from her parents, who was working in the porn industry while finishing her senior year. 

The adviser, Cathi Duffel, and her principal both refused, though they submitted the article to an independent attorney to check for slander or obscenity, two of the exceptions to California’s Education Code, which otherwise grants editorial control to the students. 

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Activities based on media coverage of high school of student working in adult industry

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Lessons, New Voices, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

by John Bowen, MJE
In my last blog we discussed the importance of fighting prior review, and noted its use is growing, even in states with state legislation protecting student expression.

To emphasize the issue, we highlight recent review attempts with the Bruin Voice of Stockton, California, and related reporting about the student story.

You have a link to the story and multiple links to commercially reported information. To study the original story and reporting on it, we provide possible starting questions for discussion of the concept of review itself and how other reporters covered the original story.

By doing this, we hope not only to create critical thinking about prior review and about how such topics are reported.

The Bruin Voice

https://bruinvoice.net

Media that reported the story

Writing about teenager who makes sex videos, school paper becomes the news

Bear Creek student newspaper’s controversial story will run as planned

Students express support for Bear Creek newspaper after controversial story publishes

Profile of student porn worker allowed to run in Stockton high school newspaper

Q&A: Teacher facing possible firing over student sex worker profile

Story on high school porn performer sparks censorship clash

District relents, allows Stockton school paper to run story about student in porn

Reporting and information gathering questions

• What are differences in the coverages?

• Are any questions unanswered? What, and who could be additional sources?

• What, if any, bias shows through in reporting, word usage, sources, approach?

• What information is missing? What sources could have provided it?

• Was the best lead used? If not, what alternatives might have been better?

• What background was used? What could have been used?

• What were coverage strengths? Weaknesses?

Legal and ethical questions

• What ethical issues did the reporter(s) have to address?

• What legal issues should be addressed? Were they? If addressed was the reporting accurate, robust and complete?

• Should topics like the Bruin Voice piece be reported by scholastic media? Discuss the legal and ethical issues and how you might handle them?

Our last blog: Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

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Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

Posted by on May 3, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Words and ideas often become scrambled with prior review


by John Bowen, MJE
Unbelievably, prior review seems to be spreading.

It occurred recently in Illinois, California, Ohio, Texas and numerous additional states. It shows no signs of slowing, despite efforts to pass state legislation to protect student expression.

To read about California review and restraint demands, go here. To read the articles in question go here.

Every scholastic journalism organization has opposed prior review and, hopefully, will continue to do so.

Legally, though, prior review is not unconstitutional although prior restraint – censorship – is in some states, Thus, the best way to fight it is with educational principles and the need for stronger civic engagement.

Arguable points against prior review include:

• It limits student intellectual and societal growth

• It delays or even extinguishes the development of journalistic responsibility

• It shackles critical thinking

• It leads historically to prior restraint which leads to mis- and disinformation

• It has no educational value

Yet, it still continues and spreads.

As journalism teachers we know our students learn more when they make content choices. 

Prior review and restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism or to become more journalistically responsible.

As journalism teachers we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to train them for that responsibility.

As journalism teachers we know democracy depends on students who understand all voices have a right to be heard and have a voice in their school and community.

It is our responsibility to find and publicize ways to convince those who support prior review why the practice has no place in scholastic journalism.

For our democracy, our educational system and our individual abilities to separate credible information untruths.

To gain traction against prior review, JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee will focus its efforts to provide educational and civic support for advisers, students, parents and administrators so they can best educate their communities.

The resources below represent our initial steps to extend the discussion about the dangers of a practice that historically only led to censorship.

Resources

Prior review
What to tell your principal about prior review?

Why avoiding prior review is educationally sound

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics

Definitions of prior review, prior restraint

Prior review vs prior restraint

Questions advisers should ask those who want to implement prior review
Why we keep harping about prior review

Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

Talking points blog and talking points to counter prior review

And much, much more at Scholastic Press Rights Committee

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