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Changing not so great expectations

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sprclogoby John Bowen

People shouldn’t be surprised at what happened at University of Missouri recently involving student media trying to do their jobs and groups disagreeing with what their role is.

After all, they have seen it in their secondary schools since at least 1988.

They have only to look at the impact of various Supreme Court decisions starting with Hazelwood as a contributing cause of the problem.

Hazelwood and other decisions gave schools the ability to control student expression, to limit what questions were asked, what stories were told and whether they were told thoroughly. It is possible this contributes to access issues, too.

In some cases, students, teachers, administrators and community members have known nothing  but a limited, controlled and incomplete student media. Perhaps an expectation of thorough and accurate reporting starting in high school could help improve the access issue.

If these groups do not support and advocate for free expression and journalistically responsible student media, they set the stage for later misunderstanding of media roles and obligations in a democracy.

Like actions at the University of Missouri.

It should not be surprising then that both a mass communication faculty member and a university administrator sought to control the media’s role and access during an incident when protesters wanted to bar media from a public event.

They may have known no better because of what many high school environments allow to become the expected role of journalism: lapdogs that do not challenge authority, do not seek a complete story and do not carry out their role in a democratic society.

They may have known no better because of what many high school environments allow to become the expected role of journalism: lapdogs that do not challenge authority, do not seek a complete story and do not carry out their role in a democratic society.

We all can learn from the events at the University of Missouri. It could happen again, elsewhere,  if we don’t.

We can:
• As teachers, ensure our students have access to information and principles that show the importance of free expression in student media.
• As teachers and students, apply the principles of the First Amendment to student media, in policy and practice.
• As teachers, students, administrators and community members, we can demand our states pass legislation that would guarantee student free expression, like North Dakota that just passed New Voices Act and 20-some states looking at similar legislation.
• As citizens in a democracy, we can inform ourselves about the role of media in a democracy and empower students to fulfill it in socially responsible ways.

We can, and should, in part because of the misinformed reaction to student media at the University of Missouri, act as the Student Press Law Center and the Journalism Education Association both agree: Cure Hazelwood.

 

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