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Keeping up with legal issues

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Most advisers have a long list of things they want to learn: how to create Soundslides, what the heck Joomla is, where to find the best examples of personality profiles, what AP style uses for the short form of microphone. And the list goes on.

However, that list doesn’t always include keeping up with court cases or finding out what legal issues or trends might impact their programs in the future. Those don’t seem quite as in-your-face as solving a lab network problem or finding ways for students to sell ads.

But they could be just as debilitating.

What ARE administrators concerned about these days? What topics make them twitch — and perhaps should then be reported even more thoroughly and professionally? What is happening to others that all advisers should know about and understand?

A look at the Student Press Law Center  shows everything from a student quote about gays being “freaks” — and the superintendent’s fear this could be disruptive — to a district that wanted to make advisers be their publications’ editors. The JEAHELP e-mail distribution list, with 1,000+ members of the Journalism Education Association, also shows the angst those in student media face. The topics there include covering improper sexual contacts with teachers to underground papers on campus.

Reading about these is a good dose of prevention or at least a clue to some cure. What would happen if one of these sensitive topics came up during your staff’s planning meeting? What would you do if the superintendent told you to be your student paper’s editor? There’s plenty to learn from what is happening to others and how they cope, what they wish they had done sooner, what lawyers say they should do now.

Yes, the computers have to work to publish the newspapers, and knowing how to install software or wipe a hard drive could be vital. But other things have to work, too. Keeping up with legal issues is a good way to avoid being blindsided by something that may take more than a reboot to fix.

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