"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press"

Honor – and elevate – all programs
during Scholastic Journalism Week

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by John Bowen
With Scholastic Journalism Week starting Feb. 22, it would serve us well to note SPLC executive Frank LoMonte’s words in this week’s Education Week.

LoMonte covers a number of points he suggests disrespect and trivialize high school journalism: mistreating female scholastic journalists, establishing the lowest, barely legal level of freedom for scholastic media and undermining the news-literacy obligation of a high school education.

As we rightfully celebrate our strengths in scholastic journalism next week, we should also heed LoMonte’s points so we help others reach the levels of scholastic journalism programs we honor.

Check out a story here about such a situation where the principal  is quoted as saying, “The school paper here at school is mine to control.”

Examine LoMonte’s thoughts, compare with the comments of the principal, and commit ourselves to elevate all journalism programs as they strive to reach the uncensored educational quality of the ones we honor most.

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Don’t shoot (just) the messenger
in Williams’ fall from grace

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By Megan Fromm, CJE

When Brian Williams apologized on air for misremembering his involvement in a direct-fire incident during the Iraq war, critics and media pundits alike were quick to toss him off his pedestal. We may never know whether Williams intentionally misled his audience or truly suffered from a lapse in memory (and judgment), but we would be remiss to blame only Williams for the gross journalistic error.

What happened behind the scenes? Where were the producers? The writers? The fact checkers? Where was the team of journalistic watchdogs looking out not only for the viewers but also for the reputation of one of their own? Williams’ fall from grace was as much their misstep as his own, and we must reconcile that or face repeating our mistakes in the future.

And while we’re making a list of those responsible for this mess, let’s be sure to leave a few blank spaces for us, the average news consumer. The media have been so quick to crucify Williams, but so far as I can tell,  they are missing another crucial point: we, the audience, led him to this moment. We pushed him to the edge of his journalistic sensibilities, and we dared him to look over the abyss. As the Washington Post reports, Williams “wanted to both report and entertain, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Today’s news audience demands this duplicity, and in fact, it is the only kind of “journalism” we reward with our attention, our money, and our clicks. We really just want our headline news from Jon Stewart, but we settle for Williams because in some ways it makes us feel better about our news consumption. So, we don’t mind when a journalist gets too personal, or when he or she becomes too much a part of the story. We keep moving the line in the sand about how close is too close. And in those moments, the audience becomes complicit in the choices news media make to vie for our attention.

Striving to meet the expectations of an increasingly fractured and disinterested news audience—while simultaneously aiming for unrealistic profit margins—has encouraged the largest news organizations to dangle precipitously close to the edge of their journalistic morality.  It almost comes as no surprise, then, that some lose their footing.

So while it’s easy to criticize Williams for his mistakes (and yes, we should), let’s not forget the part we, as news consumers, have played in this debacle. Sometimes, news is boring. Sometimes, after countless RPGs have been fired on American troops, one more becomes “just another news day.” But that reality exists because too many citizens have abdicated their responsibility to know what’s happening in the world around them regardless of whether it’s inherently sexy, interesting, or tabloid-worthy.

In the case of Brian Williams, it turns out no one really shot the messenger, so perhaps we shouldn’t, either. At least not without looking in the mirror first.

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New Hampshire bill may do more
than control surveys

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sprclogoby Stan Zoller
The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms: freedom of religion, speech, press, the right to assemble and the right to petition.

And while journalists – whether student journalists or professional journalists – wrap themselves in the security blanket afforded Americans by the First Amendment, it does not guarantee good journalism.

What does help, and this is not breaking news, is for news organizations, student or otherwise, to check the pulse of their news consumers; in other words, localize national news stories trend stories.

It’s not rocket science and it just makes sense.

Unless you’re in New Hampshire.

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Picture Freedom scholarship available

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Students 13 and older can win a $1,ooo scholarship by sharing photos and artwork that illustrate freedom of expression in competition announced Feb. 3 by 1 for All and its partners. 160x600-picture-freedom

Obtain information about the contest here.

Click here to download the official rules. A guest column by Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, and the contest’s media ads are available for publishing in print and online.

Picture Freedom is supported by the American Society of News Editors, the Journalism Education Association, the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, and hundreds of teachers and journalists.

Contestant entries must be submitted via a public posting to the social networking sites Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or between the hours of 12:00:00 AM EST on Feb. 22, 2015 and 11:59:59 PM PST on Feb. 28, 2015.

The entry must contain the hashtag #PictureFreedom (not case sensitive) and must be accessible to the general public (remove all privacy settings relating to this post or tweet).

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