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In case you missed something we’ve done …

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In case you might have missed some of our key projects and materials, here is a quick and easy way to locate them. Materials range from access to the Panic Button to passing free expression legislation in your state.

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Try P-R-O active measures
to avoid charges of ‘questionable’ reporting

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by Stan Zoller
In his 1935 classic, “It Can’t Happen Here,” the late Sinclair Lewis wrote about a small-town newspaper editor, who, struggles with the efforts of a fascist leader’s administration censor his paper and ends up in a concentration camp. After escaping from the camp, he ends up in Canada, before leading a resistance movement in the United States.

And you thought your principal was annoying.

Like the thought that the United States would never have a fascist dictator, scholastic journalism educators should not be naïve that because their principal is a wonderful person or they’ve been teaching for decades, that it “can’t happen here.”

It can. It has. It will.

That’s just the nature of the beast.

No matter how many awards your students have won, honors you have received, as many advisers have found out, a change in administrators, a “questionable” story, or even the arrival of new adviser with limited experience can foster changes that lead to prior review and prior restraint.

There a plethora of resources for advisers who suddenly find their program facing prior review. Among the best (obviously) are those at JEASPRC.ORG, including the ‘Panic Button’ that gives you support from the Scholastic Press Rights Commission and the Student Press Law Center.

But is there a way to avoid prior review? Maybe. Obviously, there are administrators and even journalism educators who have their own agendas, so no whatever you try to do will not make a difference.

You can, however, take some steps that may counter concerns of district or building administrators.

The first, quite obviously, is to practice solid and fundamental journalism. Obviously.

Make sure your students (and we’re not talking rocket science here) have multiple sources who are accountable. Make sure all information is verifiable and that sources, no matter if they are experts in a specific area, teachers, staff or community leaders, are free of bias. Make sure your reporting is transparent and that you explain who your sources are or what organization or person is behind a specific web site. If your students tried to contact someone who did not return phone calls or email requests for interviews, make sure that is indicated in an article.

Make sure your students (and we’re not talking rocket science here) have multiple sources who are accountable. Make sure all information is verifiable and that sources, no matter if they are experts in a specific area, teachers, staff or community leaders, are free of bias. Make sure your reporting is transparent and that you explain who your sources are or what organization or person is behind a specific web site. If your students tried to contact someone who did not return phone calls or email requests for interviews, make sure that is indicated in an article.

Again, this isn’t rocket science, but simple steps that could fall through the cracks, especially if a student does not meet all prescribed deadlines.

Another way to hopefully avoid the pain of prior review is to practice protocol. Randy Swikle, the godfather of protocol, put together an outstanding guide for stakeholders of student media. “Protocol for Free and Responsible Student News Media” was an offshoot of a conference by the same name in 2010. The book is available as a .PDF at Protocol for Free and Responsible Student News Media.

You’ll find that at the root of effective protocol is regular communication between your student media and the other stakeholders in your district and building. Don’t wait until there’s a “controversial story” that may appear in your media. Administrators don’t like surprises. Like any news consumer, administrators expect quality journalism with stories that are verifiable, independent and accountable.

The challenge is when there’s a story they “don’t like” because, as someone once told me, journalism is reporting about something that people don’t want people to know. It’s disturbing to hear more advisers say their principal expects student media to be a “PR piece” for the school, or worse, for the principal’s or superintendent’s personal agenda.

The key? Try Protocol…and remember the first three letters – P-R-O – as in proactive.

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Going online? Consider these points before you decide

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sprclogoby John Bowen
Scholastic journalism educators over the summer devoted a lot of time and discussion about whether print is dying and whether their programs should switch to digital first or digital only. Before advisers and students make a decision to move totally online, think about and discuss these points:

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Application of libel law: Ventura lesson

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Application of Libel Law
by Lori Keekley

Description
Students will examine the tenets and defenses of libel while analyzing a recent court case.  The lesson spans two days, but could be combined to fit into one day if needed. Students also will examine how the First Amendment plays a role libel law.

Objectives
• Students will learn the basic tenets of libel law
• Students will learn the defenses to a libel claim.
• Students will apply both the tenets of libel and defenses to libel.

Common Core State Standards
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1.a
Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1.e
Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.  

Length
100 minutes (two 50-minute classes)

Materials / resources
Article 1:
Star Tribune article to be used for the first day of class
Article 2: Star Tribune article to be used for the second day of class
Article 3: Washington Post article, which is for background
SPLC libel info

Lesson step-by-step
Day 1

1. Introduction — 5 minutes
Situation: An author claimed he had a barfight with “Scruffy Face” in a recent book. He later identified the other participant. The “Scruffy” said this alleged fight harmed his reputation. Who do you think would win in a libel suit?
2. Review — 10 minute
Using the SPLC libel information, please have students describe the following terms:
–The four parts of libel according to the Student Press Law Center?
(Publication, Identification, Harm, Fault)
–What are the defenses to a libel claim?
(Consent, Truth, Privilege, Opinion versus Fact)

3. Read article 1 — 10 minutes
While reading the article, ask students to underline the areas they think might be applicable for the prosecution. Ask them to box what would be helpful for the defense. Students should be able to explain their reasoning. Also, ask students to revisit what they decided from the introductory assignment, which opened the class.

4. Debate preparation — 10 minutes
Split the class in half. Assign half to be the prosecution and the other half the defense. They should formulate arguments for their side.

Students should also look at how the First Amendment might apply in this scenario.

5. Debate — 20 minutes
Ask students to debate the case. They should cite the parts of libel law, defensed to libel law and information from the case.

Day 2
1. Introduction — 5 minutes
As students enter, please ask them to write down as many parts of libel law and defenses to libel they can. After a few minutes have passed, ask students to get their notes and add what was missed in a different pen color.

2. Debate recap — 10 minutes
Ask students from the prosecution to reiterate their main points. Make sure they include the terminology they reviewed. After five minutes, switch and ask the defense to do the same. Ask the class to vote on which side they think should win.

3. Read article 2 — 10 minutes
While reading the article, ask students to underline the areas they were surprised about. Students should be able to explain their reasoning. Also, ask students to revisit what they noted at the beginning of class.

4. Read article 3 — 10 minutes
Again, ask students to underline any new information.

5. Small group discussion — 5 minutes
Ask students to share what they noted while reading.

6. Large group discussion — 5 minutes
Have each group report at least three comments they discussed. Comments may not be repeated from group to group.

6. Exit slip assessment — 5 minutes
Ask students to write down as many part of libel law and defenses to libel they can. (No notes, just memory on this.)

Differentiation
If students already are proficient in understanding libel law, this lesson could be condensed to one day.

Beginning students might need more time for understanding libel law — especially if it wasn’t already discussed.

 

 

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