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Build a strong foundation by locking in
pieces of the puzzle called journalism

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Part 1 of a series  on fitting the pieces of the journalism puzzle:
Knowing where to start

by Candace and John Bowen
Preparing student media for a new year often begins with design- and theme-planning. For a good number this includes summer workshops for training in reporting platforms, visual reporting approaches and the latest in apps and across-platform developments.

We hope such training also includes the basics of law and ethics. Often, we fear it does not.

Because we believe a basic understanding of legal and ethical issues is key to the puzzle of a successful year of sound journalistic media, we’d recommend the solid foundation of journalism basics to support the 2015-16 year and beyond.

Ensure students understand their legal rights and responsibilities before publication and provide them with activities and resources to prepare them for the rigors of publishing and decision-making.

Our training list to start the year and continue through it would be organized something like this:
• Outline the goals and mission of your student media
Like a road map, a goals and mission statement frames direction for student media. A mission statement presents the underlying principles student media adhere to. Goals suggest specific accomplishments used in following the mission. Both establish the how and why for students and communities alike. Like a road map, students may choose different paths from year to year but the outcome stays fixed: thorough, accurate and credible journalism.
Resources:
– New values (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
April Fool’s Editions, “Don’t be a fool” (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
Balance and objectivity (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)
The role of student media (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
The role of the adviser (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
–  Mission statement development  (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

– JEA Model Mission statement (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

• Train staff and editors in legal principles across platforms
Even though students might embrace online media, legal and ethical basics provide a framework for digital media now and what is yet to come. While there might be some changes, the basics of unprotected speech and the importance of knowing legal background won’t change in the foreseeable future.
Resources:
– Law of Student Press, book from the Student Press Law Center, also available on Kindle
Student Press Law Center
– JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Public forum overview (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
 Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism (Quill & Scroll and JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
– Legal Guides (Student Press Law Center)

• Ensure board- and/or publication-level policies are in place
Strong board of education level and publication editorial policies reinforce principles student media use to reach their mission. Strong and effective editorial policies, carefully worded, protect not only student media but also school systems if legal issues arise. Lack of careful wording is worse than no policy at all. Policies reflect the publication’s values and commitments. Ideally, the most effective policies establish student media as designated public forums, without prior review and where students make all content decisions.
Resources
The Foundations of Journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Board of education- and publication level- models (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Board media policies (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
Why avoiding prior review is educationally sound (Quill & Scroll Principal’s Guide) 
Eliminating prior review (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)

• Train staff and editors in ethical principles across platforms
Even though students might embrace online media, ethical basics provide a compass for print and digital media now and for what is yet to come. Practice in and knowledge of ethical critical thinking provides principles for journalistically responsible reporting. Reinforcement of ethical practices builds student publications steeped in ethical fitness.

Resources:
JEA Adviser Code of Ethics (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Online ethics guidelines for student media (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
Questions student staffs should discuss before entering the social media environment (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
SPJ Code of ethics (Society of Professional Journalists) 
Critical thinking, ethics and knowledge-based practice in visual media (Journalist’s Resource)

• Establish, for online or print, a content verification process
While this might have been part of skills-oriented summer workshop training and practice, its importance goes without question. Verification, credibility, context and accuracy are the reporting cornerstones of journalism. Each is rooted in establishing a rigorous ethical process.
Resources:
Planning and gathering information/producing content (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Getting it right (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)
Journalism as a discipline of verification (American Press Institute) 
Verification (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

• Clarify who owns content
To avoid issues if someone tries to sell your yearbook content online or you want to sell photos, determine ahead of time who owns the content of student work. It’s important to plan this ahead of incidents.

Resources:
– Who Owns Student Content? (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Back to School: Who Owns What? (Student Press Law Center) 
– Contribution to Collective Work U.S. Copyright Office

• Develop guidelines for handing takedown demands if online
Fielding requests for takedown demands is increasingly a decision student media have to make, either from reporters after they have left school or from sources because they do not like the story. Choices are limited, and involve ethical thinking.

Resources:
Takedown demands (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Responding to takedown demands (Student Press Law Center) 
Takedown requests (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)

Without an understanding of rights and responsibilities – the “could we?” and “should we?” of producing media, staffs can have the most attractive layouts imaginable and captivating story-telling, but they could still make legal and ethical mistakes that would ruin their chance to produce anything else for their audience.

Part 1: Build a strong foundation
Part 2: Careful preparation creates strong mission statements
Part 3: Points to avoid

Part 4: Fitting the pieces into a strong Foundation

 

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