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Becoming a public forum for student expression

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

The importance of public forums in student media

Guideline

All student media publications should strive to be a “public forum for student expression” in order to be granted more protection under current free press laws.

Question: 

What is a “public forum for student expression?” Why is it important for student media outlets to be designated as such?

Key points/action:

  • A “public forum” implies that the publication is set up as an open forum for expression. This ultimately means any person with an opinion can be published/broadcasted in the media outlet (through letters to the editor, call ins, etc.). This “openness” to the public is important because the publication is then elevated from a closed student publication to a place where community discussion and debate can occur,
  • and those democratic ideals hold more legal protection.
  • A “public forum for student expression” is a forum where student editors have been given the right to make final content decisions.
  • Public forum = a forum where anyone has a right to add to the discussion

Stance: 

All student media outlets should declare themselves “open forums for student expression” in their editorial policy and should open expression rights to the public (by allowing letters to the editor, etc.). Students should also truly make all final content decisions, thus transferring the legal responsibility of the publication, in theory, to the students.

Reasoning/suggestions:

What does this mean for student journalists? 1.) they should publish any letter to the editor they receive, as long as it does not classify as unprotected speech and follows established publication guidelines, in order to establish the publication as truly an “open forum”; and 2.) somewhere within their editorial pages, a condensed editorial policy should be published with each issue establishing the publication as a “public forum for student expression where students make all decisions of content.”

Directions for how readers can submit letters to the editor should also be published, as well as clarifying statement that student editors make all final content decisions.

Bottom line: Forum status matters, especially for schools not protected by state free press laws (like New Voices). It may be the only legal protection students have in a court of law.

Resources: 

Related: Tinker Standard, Tinker v. Hazelwood, Unprotected Speech

 

 

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Public or independent schools:
Whose expression is protected is complex

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

School type, court decisions state laws and how student media are established  can all have a role

by Kristin Taylor
If public school student journalists face censorship, they can turn to the First Amendment. Because public schools are funded by the government, school officials are government agents. Private (also known as “independent”) schools are not funded by the government, so those school officials are not government agents — the First Amendment does not apply.

This might make one assume that public school students have full speech protection and private school students do not, but it’s not that simple.

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Fighting self-censorship

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Advisers should oppose student self-censorship, empower decision-making

Advisers and students should oppose attempts at both internal and external censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or don’t satisfy a journalistic function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content.

Social media post/question:

Why should advisers actively oppose censorship?

Stance:

Advisers and students should oppose internal and external censorship. This may include administrative, staff, faculty and even self-censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or satisfy a journalism function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Journalism teachers must work to stem the tide of self-censorship.

In a survey administered to the NSPA/JEA convention at a recent JEA/NSPA convention, both students and advisers stated they experienced self-censorship. According to the survey, “39 percent of students and 32 percent of advisers said their staff had decided not to publish something based on the belief that school officials would censor it.”

This fear of censorship or of being disciplined for content shouldn’t occur. Advisers must work to educate their students and others about the problems of self-censorship in regard to topics that are journalistically and ethically sound.

A journalism teacher’s duties is in the job title — advise(r).

According to the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics, journalism advisers should,  “Advise and mentor, rather than act as censor or decision-maker.” Teachers need to empower students to make content decisions and fight against student self-censorship.

If advisers censor students, they not only violate this code, they also teach students it is acceptable for a government entity to censor someone’s First Amendment rights. When public teachers function as employees of the government, that is exactly what we teach.

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Female High School Students Bear the Burden of Censorship, SPLC.org

Curing Hazelwoodpackage, SPRC

The Role of Student Media: Foundations Package, SPRC

SPLC resources, SPLC

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics

Self Censorship is the Scariest of All, SPRC

 

Blog:

Advisers and students should oppose self-censorship (and other forms of staff censorship) and attempts administrative censorship. However, that does not equate with student media covering topics that lack journalistic merit or satisfy a journalism function. Students should journalistically examine and evaluate media content. See this blogon including controversial coverage.

 

If advisers censor students, they not only ignore JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics, they are also teach students that it is acceptable for a government entity to censor someone’s First Amendment right. When public teachers are functioning as employees of the government, that is exactly what they are teaching.

 

While teachers shouldn’t be leading the fight for the students’ First Amendment rights, teachers can work to educate others in the building (other teachers, administrators, school board members and students) about students’ rights.

 

If a problem does occur, it is important for the teacher to take in union representation (if possible) and document the meeting. Also, ask for notes and written directives. If you don’t follow these directives, you could be seen as insubordinate.

 

Advisers who understand that educating others about the students rights are important may find it easier if a problem does exists. If the students already know they can reach out to the Student Press Law Center or hit JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee’s Panic Button, the teacher has empowered the students to fight this fight.

 

 

 

OR:

 

 

Every August I have the talk with my editors. It’s not about the proverbial birds and the bees, instead it’s about what to do and who to contact if someone attempts to censor their content.

 

The students receive the Student Press Law Center’s contact information and information about how to access and hit SPRC’s Panic Button.

 

A few years ago I also learned of a “secret” document that has been passed down from editor to editor since 2011. From what I’m told, the document outlines this information and states exactly what I can and can’t help with. It seems my students actually do want me to keep my job.

 

My students know that if a censorship situation occurs, I cannot help them. They have to be the ones to fight for their First Amendment rights. In fact, when my students filed a lawsuit during the spring of 2017, I didn’t know about it until I saw Echo’s tweet that the students had sued the school for access to hallway video of an alleged hijab pull. Later I learned they filed a Freedom of Information Act request without my knowledge, found their own pro bono attorney and I also suspect they have documents about this request I still have never seen.

 

During this process, I did know something was up. I would walk into the Echo room and everyone would get quiet. At times they would tell me to go fill my coffee mug or a student would ask if he or she could speak to me outside the publications room about something — and it really wasn’t anything that needed discussing. During all of this, my gut told me they were conspiring about something or planning a party. I just had to trust in whatever it was they were doing.

 

This experience of having to blindly trust the students was a good one for me. I know my students understand a First Amendment fight is not one I can or will wage. They have to take the initiative.

 

What I’ve learned through this is that I will continue to trust my students and continue to education them on their rights prior to a problem occurring. If students already know they can reach out to the Student Press Law Center or hit JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee’s Panic Button before a problem exists, the teacher has empowered the students to fight this fight.

 

 

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Unnamed sources should be used sparingly …

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

… and only after students evaluate how the value of the information balances with the problems such sources create

Journalism is based on truth and accuracy. Using unnamed sources risks both of those standards. For that reason, students should seek sources willing to speak on the record. Unnamed sources should be used sparingly and only after students evaluate how the value of the information balances with the problems such sources create. 

Occasionally, a source’s physical or mental health may be jeopardized by information on the record. In this instance, journalists should take every precaution to minimize harm to the source.

Staff manual process

Editors should train staff members on how to conduct proper interviews on the record. Poor interview techniques could lead to confusion between potential sources and reporters. Staff members should always identify themselves when working on behalf of student media. Reporters should be advised to use anonymous sources rarely. Before agreeing to do so, they should ask the following questions:

  • Why does the source want to remain unnamed? Is it possible he/she would be in danger if his/her name is revealed? What other problems could occur?
  • How important is the story? How important is the information provided, and is there an alternative means for gathering it? Using an unnamed source hurts credibility and could risk legal action.
  • Students should consider what might happen if a court demands to know the source’s name. Most professional journalists would not reveal the name, and many have gone to jail instead of doing so. Would student reporters be willing to go that far? What legal protections exist in your state for protection of sources?
  • What might the source have to gain from getting this information published? Some sources who want to be off the record have ulterior motives that could harm someone else.
  • If students decide the information is vital and the source has a solid reason for remaining unnamed, who, besides the reporter, should know the identity? Many staffs decide the editor should know to assess the credibility of the source, but not the adviser in order to protect the adviser’s professional position at the school.

Resources

Legal protections for journalists’ sources and informationby the Student Press Law Center

Position paper on anonymity of sources, Society of Professional Journalists

Use of unnamed sources, National Public Radio

Lesson: Exploring the Issues with Anonymous Sources, Journalism Education Association

 

 

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Standards for accepting non-staff content

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Standards for non-staff generated content (including student media ads) 

Guideline:

Our publication will not accept advertising content that includes profanity, obscenity or nudity (with the exception of baby pictures for the personal ads). The editors reserve the right to edit all copy for style or to refuse an ad on the basis of its content.

Social media post/question:

What’s your guideline on questionable material in content students submit?

Stance:

Create guidelines that allow student editors to still maintain some control of the content allowed to others, and to generate and communicate these guidelines clearly to your readers.

Reasoning/suggestions:

When you accept business or personal ads for your yearbook or newspaper, you turn over some content generation privileges, but you maintain the same responsibilities. By creating a clear guideline, which you communicate with your readers, you help to ensure those that submit the content demonstrate some level of journalistic responsibility and understand you, as the editor, still have the final say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Needs resources and blog

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Study others’ First Amendment climate to better your own

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Hits, Quick Tips | 0 comments

First Amendment survey

Social media post/question: What does your school’s empowerment of free expression entail? 

Topic: By localizing the survey “Gallup: Free Expression on Campus: A Survey of U.S. College Students and U.S. Adults,” students can begin to see their students’ reactions to free expression points made in the survey.

Stance: Free expression isn’t always a friendly venture. Oftentimes, the values of free expression can be tested by speech that may make another uncomfortable.

Reasoning/suggestions: By examining their school’s current free expression climate, students can evaluate what type of community education is needed and act accordingly.

According to the Gallup poll results concerning seeking out and listening to alternative views, “Only 16 percent of students and 24 percent of adults say Americans do a good job of this; 50 percent and 39 percent, respectively, say Americans do a poor job.”

How can education of a school culture allow for a forum for student discussion?

Resources:

Top 10 High School FAQs

Summary ofTinker v. Des MoinesandHazelwood v. Kuhlmeier

The SPLC First Amendment rights diagram(for public schools)

SPLC law library

 

 

 

 

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