Media-level editorial policies
Media-level editorial policies aren’t as much legal protection as the board-level policies, but they could show how students operate “in practice” and thus might be viewed as some protection. Thus they are a must for student media. JEA’s Model Editorial Policy is a good example because it adds discussion points such as letters to the editor, handling coverage of death and advertising.
Any of the board-level policy models can be adapted for use at the media level. All policies, including the JEA model, stress student media as designated public forums in which students make all content decisions without prior review by school officials.
The JEA model includes detailed language and provides direction for process and principles. It expands on the Student Press Law Center’s Model Guidelines for High School Media, with the kind of situations student media face, which makes it preferable at the level of the individual medium.
Ethical guidelines and staff manual procedures should be separate sections from either board-level or student media-level policies. This way student editors can update their staff manuals to meet changing needs and situations.
Staff manual process
A school without policies can cause confusion and misunderstanding for readers and participants. Media-level editorial policies should be direct, clear and understandable to people of all ages. These policies reinforce ethical guidelines, and a staff manual rooted in ethical approaches outlines their implementation on a daily basis.
Media-level editorial policies should be reviewed and endorsed yearly to keep them current as the active framework for student media. Any student media policy established without the input of its student practitioners is both a missed opportunity and a recipe for mistakes. By evaluating the inclusion of these policies, students will better understand their mission and expectations.
When finished, media-level policies should be shared with school and outside communities so all parties understand the principles and processes the journalism program follows.
Even if staffs incorporate the JEA model editorial policy as a framework, students should work to establish clear guidelines for their decision-making.
In creating the ideal forum statement, consistent for all student media at either media or board level, staffs should include: “[NAME OF STUDENT MEDIA] are designated public forums for student expression in which students make all final content decisions without prior review from school officials.”
Such a media-level policy, board-approved or in practice, would be designed to protect all parties in case of legal issues
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