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Facing takedown demands requires
thoughtful planning of guidelines

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sprclogoBecause student media takedown demands continue to grow and the JEA listserv recently discussed issues that could be involved in information takedown,  JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee reposts guidelines to assist students and their advisers who face these requests.

We agree with the Student Press Law Center’s Executive Director Frank LoMonte who said the SPLC has shied away from telling people a ”right way” to handle takedown requests, leaving the decision to their editorial discretion.

So, instead of a single guideline, we offer this set of resources to help students make informed choices.

In all situations, we recommend the SPLC’s existing work on the subject. We hope these guidelines will offer a roadmap if your students face takedown decisions.

Even more importantly, we believe in establishing guidelines to evaluate information before it is posted: Put Up recommendations might prevent facing unsatisfactory decisions later because a 15-year-old did not consider the implications of an ill-chosen comment or questionable image.

We urge advisers to train student reporters to verify information and use credible and reliable sources as more effective approach than taking down content.

If students decide information must come down, this resource from The Poynter Institute suggests thoughtful alternatives to just taking something down.

Below is a model ethics-staff manual statement, as part of our Foundations of Journalism policy-ethics-staff manual package. Such a statement or one similar, should be part of student media’s ethical guidelines and staff manuals.

Takedown requests
Ethical guidelines
Journalists may be asked to remove online content for any number of reasons. Just because content is unpopular or controversial does not mean a media staff should comply with such requests. When journalists meet their goal of producing consistent, responsible journalism, they likely will choose to leave the content in question online even in the face of criticism.

All media – including student media – provide a historical record of issues, events and comments. As such, content should not be changed unless there are unusual circumstances.

Staff manual process
Content should not be removed unless the student editorial board determines it is factually inaccurate or was otherwise factually, legally deficient at the time of publication. The staff manual should provide a checklist or guide students can use to determine whether a takedown request has merit.

Suggestions
• In some cases, student editors may take down a story because they determine the content warrants a one-time exception (such as fabrication or to protect a source).
• Reporters may elect to do a follow-up story.
• If student editors choose to remove content, they should publish a note on the site explaining when and why the content was removed.
• Takedown criteria should be outlined and explained in the staff manual.
• Create guidelines and procedures to ensure students only post information and images they feel meet standards of responsible journalism: Put Up guidelines.

Resources
5 Ways News Organizations Respond to ‘Unpublishing’ Requests, The Poynter Institute
Takedown Demands: Here is a Roadmap of Choices, Rationale, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Respond to Takedown Demands, Student Press Law Center
Setting Criteria Before the Requests Come, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
10 Steps to a Put-Up Policy, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Audio: Takedown Requests, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute

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