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What to tell your principal about Prior Review? QT 62

Posted by on Apr 23, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Quick Hits: Student First Amendment Rights

The bad news is that administrators may legally ask to see stories before they are printed or aired, but prior review leaves them in an awkward situation, because of the good news below.

The good news is that they generally cannot ask students to change anything or spike the story. That would be prior restraint, allowed legally only under narrow conditions.*

Prior Review is a bad idea for both students and the school. But how do you convince the administrations?

You have two strong arguments against prior review. The first is a legal argument, the second is a pedagogical one.

First, when administrators review student publications prior to publishing, they and the school district become responsible for its content and policies. These three cases show the protection schools enjoy when they allow student control of student media:

  1. Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit brought against the district failed. The adults were sued because the student leaders of the paper had refused to run two ads. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused the ads. (Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals)
  2. Because the students, not the school district, decided which senior portraits to allow in the Londonderry High School yearbook, the district was protected from successful suit for First Amendment violation when the students rejected a senior portrait with a shotgun. The judge found that it was not the school district that rejected the photo. It was the student yearbook editors. “The state has not, it seems, suppressed Blake’s speech. His fellow students have done so.” (Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) in the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire.) 
  3. Because the students of Roosevelt High School in Seattle practiced strong journalism and controlled the content of their student media, a lower court ruled in favor of the Seattle Public Schools and against slumlords suing the district for libel following an article in The Roosevelt News, “Sisley Slums Cause Controversy: Developers and neighborhood clash over land use.”  The lower court ruled that if what the students write is true, it is not libel, and where the students make the content decisions, the school district is protected from successful suit. (Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011 in the Court of Appeals of Washington (state), Division 1)

Second, when administrators exercise prior review, students lose the opportunity to develop skill crucial to democracy, including the ability to recognize sound journalism and fake news. When students choose the content of their publications to please—or at least “get past”—administrators, they are denied the opportunity to apply what they learn in class about news values, ethics and press law.

In contrast, students who control the content of their publication regularly consider their audience’s right to know and individuals’ right to privacy. They judge the strength and reliability of sources. They strive to make their reporting fair and accurate. They come to cherish their audience’s trust and they admit mistakes, issue corrections and retractions, and live with the consequences. They are prepared to be responsible citizens as intelligent consumers of media.

There is no evidence that prior review by administration improves learning in any way.















*In states under the Tinker standard, an administrator could restrain stories that pose a clear and present danger of inciting students to commit crimes on school premises or violate lawful school regulations, or substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school. The administrator could also restrain stories that contain obscenity or slander/libel.


In the states that remain under Hazelwood, the administrator would need a “legitimate pedagogical concern.”



QuickHits So what does Hazelwood actually allow administrators to do?

QuickHits The Perks of Being a Wallflower: How a School District Escaped a Lawsuit by Fostering an Independent Student Press.  Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals

Quickhits More Perks of Being a Wallflower: How two other School District Escaped Lawsuits by Fostering an Independent Student Press. Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) and Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011)











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How two other school districts escaped lawsuits
by fostering an independent student press QT 61

Posted by on Apr 22, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Student First Amendment Rights
 Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) and Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011)

Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005)

The yearbook staff at Londonderry High School in New Hampshire voted against running the photograph Blake Douglass submitted as his senior picture. The photograph showed him kneeling, a broken (open) shotgun across his shoulder, dressed in trap shooting clothing.  Shotgun shells appeared to be in his pocket. Though the student journalists rejected it as a senior picture, they did offer to include it in the community sports section.

Douglass and his father sued the school district, claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated. He also claimed the school was using “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” by refusing to run a picture of him with his shotgun. Douglass claimed the school could not “lawfully refuse to publish [the photograph] because they disapproved of the ‘message’ they think the readers will take from it.”

The federal judge disagreed. It was not the school district that rejected the photo. It was the student yearbook editors.  “The state has not, it seems, suppressed Blake’s speech. His fellow students have done so,” the judge wrote. “The First Amendment does not restrict the conduct of private citizens, nor is it violated when one private actor ‘suppresses’ the speech of another.”

Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011)

The March 2009 edition of “The Roosevelt News,” the student paper for Roosevelt High School in Seattle, included an article on a potential project that would tear down rental homes near the school and replace them with a tall building.  “Sisley Slums Cause Controversy” included this sentence: “In 15 years these [Sisley] brothers have acquired 48 housing and building maintenance code violations, and have also been accused of racist renting policies.”

Hugh Sisley sued the Seattle School District Number One for defamation, that is, making false, derogatory claims. He objected to one clause in the article, the clause that read “and have also been accused of racist renting policies.”

The Washington state superior court judge ruled against Sisley and in favor of the school district, writing “a public school student is not an agent or employee of the school district.” In addition, “the public school district is a governmental entity constitutionally prohibited from censoring or otherwise curtailing a student’s First Amendment right to free speech unless there is evidence censorship is necessary to prevent disruption of the school environment. No such evidence exists.”

The Sisleys appealed and the appeals court ruled against the Sisleys—and for the school district–simply because the Sisleys had not proved the statement in the “The Roosevelt News” was untrue.

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Use of VR by scholastic media QT 60

Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in Blog, Digital Media, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Key points/action:

According to its proponents, Virtual Reality offers virtual and immersive storytelling that puts audiences into the scene and enables them to feel such emotions as fear. VR, proponents say, gives people authentic reactions of those in the real situation.

Commercial news media, and others,k are trying VR out across the country. Columbia Journalism Review calls VR “ascendant,” and cites ongoing projects like Harvest of Change and Project Syria. CJR also cites growing consumer interest in VR.

Despite commercial use and excitement about VR’s use, questions still remain for its use in scholastic media. The best thing for staffs to consider is whether using VR as telling stories or presenting news is the best platform or approach.

Some questions:

• Accuracy of context?

• Does its use reflect the preciousness of the real event?

• Is the information expressed in context?

• Are the images accurate and in context?

• Has nothing been added not in the “live” event itself?

What guidelines should student media adapt or create for VR that maintain the best of journalism’s ethical standards?


We feel there are no quick and easy answers, but plenty of ethical room for discussion and implementation of workable guidelines.


Before spending funds of the tools needed to make VR become a local and effective tool, student study how journalism organizations use it or plan to use it and how they handle ethical concerns.

ResourcesThe Future of News: Virtual Reality- TED Talks

Virtual reality is journalism’s next frontier – Columbia Journalism Review


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Providing feedback QT59

Posted by on Apr 16, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Editors should conduct relationships with staff members in a fair and professional manner. By considering the program’s best interests above matters of personality, students will be able to work together in a positive and productive environment.

Social media post/question:

How can peer coaching may help staffers build positive relationships.


Teaching students work together is paramount to building the teamwork aspect of student media. By implementing coaching, editors empower staffers by further owning their work. 


Coaching asks journalists to use the skills they already know. In The Coaching Way, Chip Scanlon writes, “It’s valuable as well because it draws on two basic skills you as a journalist already possess: the ability to ask good questions and the ability to listen to the answers.”

By asking the editor to approach the story as a reader, Scanlon adds the editor must listen and have empathy. “The ability to identify with another person’s point of view and to communicate that understanding. It requires a range of other skills and qualities, too, such as flexibility, confidence, a willingness to experiment, a keen awareness of another’s situation, and a genuine desire to help someone else achieve his or her goals.” Using this in a student media also empowers the staffer and requires the editor not to take charge.

Scanlon addresses the benefits of coaching and shows the importance of learning:

“1. To make use of the knowledge and experience of the writer.

  1. To give the writer primary responsibility for the story.
  2. To provide an environment in which the writer can do the best possible job.
  3. To train the writer, so that editing will be unnecessary.”

By implementing this approach to editing, staffers should improve and editors can better question the content in the story.


The Coaching Way, Chip Scanlon, Poynter (More resources at the bottom of the article)

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Work with students as they select
the proper platform for content QT58

Posted by on Apr 12, 2018 in Blog, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Students should evaluate the best tool for the content it provides. Because of this, students should use processes for brainstorming and shaping the coverage that identifies how to best show the story.

Student media should consistently and purposefully brainstorm what story ideas might be relevant and valuable to their audience.

Students should not ignore those story ideas that might be sensitive or cause offense but instead should consider how to cover these issues in meaningful, sensitive ways.

Student media should also recognize while audiences are likely to seek out news that’s personally interesting to them, news media have an obligation to also provide those stories that meet a standard for public service.

Often, these stories will fall in the “watchdog” category and include political and institutional coverage. While the audience may not be intrinsically interested in these stories, journalists must use their best news judgment to provide a mix of what consumers want to know and need to know.


Students should brainstorm the best platform for their content. Audiences also may vary based on the platform.


If students don’t use the best venue for the content, then the story may not be told as robustly as possible. They also need to understand, as suppliers and consumers of news, that digital platforms are not reliant on editors to help select content. According to The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Reengineered Journalism by Emily Bell and Taylor Owen, “Platforms rely on algorithms to sort and target content. They have not wanted to invest in human editing, to avoid both cost and the perception that humans would be biased. However, the nuances of journalism require editorial judgment, so platforms will need to reconsider their approach.”

Because of this, students need to understand the ways social media caters to the individual.

Additionally, as media literate consumers as Bell and Owen write, students should understand, “greater transparency and accountability are required from platform companies. While news might reach more people than ever before, for the first time, the audience has no way of knowing how or why it reaches them, how data collected about them is used, or how their online behavior is being manipulated. And publishers are producing more content than ever, without knowing who it is reaching or how—they are at the mercy of the algorithm.”

In essence, consumers often unknowingly shape the news they receive.


Journalism Needs the Right Skills to Survive, Poynter

The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Reengineered Journalism, Columbia Journalism Review

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Limiting student emails QT57

Posted by on Apr 10, 2018 in Blog, Digital Media, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Guideline and policy

The school can’t keep students from using email addresses they create for communications related to their student media.

Nothing in Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) or Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) overcomes the First Amendment protections students have nor the rights they have under state law.

Key points/action: Talk to the Student Press Law Center for guidance on how to respond to this.

Stance:  Three points to note:

  • The school is not required by CIPA or COPPA to prevent the use of these publication email address that don’t go through the official school Google email service. So long as the school can attest it’s taking appropriate measures to protect students from harm that could result via these emails (training them how to use them and how to respond to inappropriate messages, making a faculty member like the adviser accessible to the students if they have questions or problems, etc.), they will have complied with any legal obligations under those laws.
  • There is no reason the school couldn’t give students on the publication staff a second email address connected to their publication role that operates under the same protocols as the students’ official school email address. This may not be a good option because of the access the school could have to publication-related messages, but it would be a way to satisfy the school’s concerns and get separate emails working more easily.
  • Gmail is not the only option for free email accounts for your publication staff. If your students could work around this by creating new email addresses via another service that can be accessed from the school computers, that might be worth considering.

Reasoning/suggestions: The more challenging issue is whether the school can prevent students from accessing those email accounts on school-owned devices. Again, the SPLC is probably best able to advise you and  your students,

Resource: Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism, Kent State University, September 2017.

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

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