Scholastic Journalism

It’s ironic

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by John Bowen
It’s ironic that Sept. 17, a day mandated to honor the Constitution of the United States, also this year marks the 2-day suspension of Neshaminy adviser Tara Huber for what the board of education calls insubordination.

The board suspended her without pay for failing to stop students from defying its directive. Her crime: She did not censor her students’ actions, actions she had no part in and did not even know about.

Additionally, the board of education stripped the students’ fundraising account of $1,200 to reimburse printing costs when students failed to print a letter in that issue using a term they deemed offensive.

In our minds, Huber and her students, through their actions of following their beliefs and Constitutional protections, represent the true spirit of the Constitution.

Today.

Tomorrow.

Every day.

Background materials:

• Constitution Day lessons
http://jeasprc.org/the-playwickian-v-neshaminy-school-board-what-is-freedom-of-the-student-press-and-how-does-a-staff-make-and-defend-editorial-decisions-a-lesson-in-freedom/
SPLC search for Neshaminy
http://www.splc.org/search/?q=neshaminy
Neshaminy HS adviser suspended over newspaper’s ban
http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20140917_Neshaminy_HS_advisor_suspended_over_newspaper_s_ban.html
Neshaminy suspends newspaper adviser for two days without pay
http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/local/neshaminy-suspends-newspaper-adviser-for-two-days-without-pay/article_1473f7c9-2647-56f4-8d6e-27441c6f6c0e.html

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Linking news literacy and scholastic journalism

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by Megan Fromm
This weekend, JEA President Mark Newton and I participated in the “Because News Matters” summit on news literacy in Chicago. Hosted by the McCormick Foundation, the Poynter Institute, and other partners, the summit was an opportunity to bring together key stakeholders interested in news literacy education.

As teachers, and as JEA board members, Mark and I wore some distinctive hats during the two-day summit. To begin, we wanted to represent the hundreds of high school journalism teachers who know that first-hand experience in media production is a tremendous way to teach important values of news literacy (assessing credible sources, fact-checking, and understanding bias). We also wanted to encourage those advocating for curricular and policy changes in our k-12 schools to recognize the unique role of scholastic media in developing engaged, critical thinkers.

While these issues admittedly go beyond how we teach law and ethics to our students, I want to share some ideas and themes that emerged:

First, a number of “best practice” demonstrations in teaching news literacy used BOTH news media content and social media content. This is a lesson we can take to heart with anything we teach—sometimes reaching students where they, whether we’re teaching libel, copyright, or ethical sources, means first using content that is highly relatable and relevant to them. For example, one teacher used a rap artist’s Twitter feed to help students begin to differentiate between news, opinion, and advertising content.

Second, participants at the summit recognized that what teachers really need (regardless of content) is twofold: time and resources. To that end, one of the next “projects” in the news literacy world will likely be continued compilation and promotion of materials and resources that you can use “off the shelf” with your students.

And finally, there was much debate regarding how news literacy fits in with other related literacies, including information, digital, and media literacy. To be frank, there was also significant conversation on whether journalism production and news literacy can (and/or should) be taught in tandem. Of course, as a former high school publications adviser, JEA news literacy curriculum leader and a board member, my answer was a resounding “YES!”

Is journalism and media production the only logical way to teach news literacy? No, but based on my eight-plus years of experience in the field, I believe it is the best way, and often the most engaging for our students. Incorporating news literacy in a journalism classroom takes concepts like “accuracy, fairness, bias, credibility, etc.,” and places them squarely in a controllable, student-led process. So much of what news literacy advocates is based on the basics of solid reporting, so why teach it in a bubble? Why not encourage our students to report while they fact-check, and then to publish information based on what they find? Why not teach our students the value of information in a democracy by also letting them see the effects of the printed word?

Given that a significant outcome for news literacy instruction is to implore students to engage in the democratic and civic process, creating published content is a natural fit. In doing so, students who are free to make creative and editorial decisions without administrative censorship will also learn the heavy responsibility that comes with exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

To this end, news literacy and journalism education are the different sides of the same coin, and we can empower our students by letting them explore the role of journalism from all angles—both as producers and consumers.

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In case you missed something we’ve done …

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In case you might have missed some of our key projects and materials, here is a quick and easy way to locate them. Materials range from access to the Panic Button to passing free expression legislation in your state.

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Try P-R-O active measures
to avoid charges of ‘questionable’ reporting

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by Stan Zoller
In his 1935 classic, “It Can’t Happen Here,” the late Sinclair Lewis wrote about a small-town newspaper editor, who, struggles with the efforts of a fascist leader’s administration censor his paper and ends up in a concentration camp. After escaping from the camp, he ends up in Canada, before leading a resistance movement in the United States.

And you thought your principal was annoying.

Like the thought that the United States would never have a fascist dictator, scholastic journalism educators should not be naïve that because their principal is a wonderful person or they’ve been teaching for decades, that it “can’t happen here.”

It can. It has. It will.

That’s just the nature of the beast.

No matter how many awards your students have won, honors you have received, as many advisers have found out, a change in administrators, a “questionable” story, or even the arrival of new adviser with limited experience can foster changes that lead to prior review and prior restraint.

There a plethora of resources for advisers who suddenly find their program facing prior review. Among the best (obviously) are those at JEASPRC.ORG, including the ‘Panic Button’ that gives you support from the Scholastic Press Rights Commission and the Student Press Law Center.

But is there a way to avoid prior review? Maybe. Obviously, there are administrators and even journalism educators who have their own agendas, so no whatever you try to do will not make a difference.

You can, however, take some steps that may counter concerns of district or building administrators.

The first, quite obviously, is to practice solid and fundamental journalism. Obviously.

Make sure your students (and we’re not talking rocket science here) have multiple sources who are accountable. Make sure all information is verifiable and that sources, no matter if they are experts in a specific area, teachers, staff or community leaders, are free of bias. Make sure your reporting is transparent and that you explain who your sources are or what organization or person is behind a specific web site. If your students tried to contact someone who did not return phone calls or email requests for interviews, make sure that is indicated in an article.

Make sure your students (and we’re not talking rocket science here) have multiple sources who are accountable. Make sure all information is verifiable and that sources, no matter if they are experts in a specific area, teachers, staff or community leaders, are free of bias. Make sure your reporting is transparent and that you explain who your sources are or what organization or person is behind a specific web site. If your students tried to contact someone who did not return phone calls or email requests for interviews, make sure that is indicated in an article.

Again, this isn’t rocket science, but simple steps that could fall through the cracks, especially if a student does not meet all prescribed deadlines.

Another way to hopefully avoid the pain of prior review is to practice protocol. Randy Swikle, the godfather of protocol, put together an outstanding guide for stakeholders of student media. “Protocol for Free and Responsible Student News Media” was an offshoot of a conference by the same name in 2010. The book is available as a .PDF at Protocol for Free and Responsible Student News Media.

You’ll find that at the root of effective protocol is regular communication between your student media and the other stakeholders in your district and building. Don’t wait until there’s a “controversial story” that may appear in your media. Administrators don’t like surprises. Like any news consumer, administrators expect quality journalism with stories that are verifiable, independent and accountable.

The challenge is when there’s a story they “don’t like” because, as someone once told me, journalism is reporting about something that people don’t want people to know. It’s disturbing to hear more advisers say their principal expects student media to be a “PR piece” for the school, or worse, for the principal’s or superintendent’s personal agenda.

The key? Try Protocol…and remember the first three letters – P-R-O – as in proactive.

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Going online? Consider these points before you decide

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sprclogoby John Bowen
Scholastic journalism educators over the summer devoted a lot of time and discussion about whether print is dying and whether their programs should switch to digital first or digital only. Before advisers and students make a decision to move totally online, think about and discuss these points:

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Constitution Day lessons and activities, 2014

Constitution Day lessons and activities, 2014
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by Lori Keekley
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation, and is a commission of the Journalism Education Association.

We designed our Constitution Day lesson plans to help students celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as
 mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press.

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