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Letters and commentary can enhance pubic forum role QT40

Posted by on Jan 5, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them.

Guideline:

Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well. Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them.

Stance:

Student media should welcome letters to the editor or commentaries as ways to engage your readers and diversify the published content.

Reasoning/suggestions:  

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages you host. They are usually 250 words or fewer and allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories you’ve written, topics you have covered, or issues in the school or their world that concern them.

Your guidelines should clearly spell out your process for accepting letters to the editor, and the editors still must maintain editorial control. Editorial control does not mean student editors do not publish something with which you disagree. In fact, students should use this opportunity to welcome differing viewpoints and voices. Making sure you have viewpoint-agnostic guidelines will help to ensure your staff makes well-informed ethical decisions regarding content.

Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them. Letting the authors make changes keeps the public forum status intact.

Other considerations:

  • A student editor must know the name of the author, and verify the response, even if the letter is published “name withheld by request.” False names or nicknames should not be published.
  • Each letter should be no longer than 250 words.
  • The source of emailed letters should be verified prior to publication.
  • Student staffs should strive to publish all letters received as part of the forum process.
  • Student staffs should develop a policy concerning staff member comments or letters to the editor. Such staffers have other avenues to express their opinions in their media, and this is not a common practice for commercial media.

Resources:

Star Tribune’s editorial pages

Letters to the Editor Policies

 

 

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Forum status of student media: Quick Tip1

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

 

Policy

If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Key points/action: In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever for student journalists and their advisers to know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression.

Quick Tips are small tidbits of information designed to address specific legal or ethical concerns advisers and media staffs may have or have raised. These include a possible guideline, stance, rationale and resources for more information. This  is the first in the series. 

The language of those policies (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

A designated public forum is created when school officials have “by policy or by practice” opened a publication for use by students to engage in their own free expression.

Often the most important question in that analysis is which of two First Amendment standards they have to meet.

  • The Tinker standard (as defined by the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)), which says schools can censor only if their actions are necessary to avoid a material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion of the rights of others. This language may sound vague, but as the courts have interpreted it, the Tinker standard is a very difficult one for school officials to meet and typically requires them to show evidence of physical disruption before their censorship will be allowed.
  • The Hazelwood standard (as defined by the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)), which says schools can censor if their actions are reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns. Although this standard requires school officials to justify every act of censorship as educationally sound, it is a standard that gives school officials more extensive authority to silence or punish student expression.

Stance: Of the three types of forums, open public, limited public and closed, JEA strongly endorses the designated (open) public forum concept.

In the Hazelwood case, the Court said it believed both the policy and practice at Hazelwood East High School reflected school officials’ intent to exercise complete control over the student newspaper’s content. That finding prompted the Court to say a designated public forum did not exist.

Student publications at other schools with different policies and different practices relating to editorial control can be public forums. Where student editors have been given final authority over content decisions in their publications or where a school policy explicitly describes a student publication as a designated public forum, the Tinker standard will still apply.

Reasoning/suggestions: If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Two things are important about the phrasing of this policy statement. First is the use of the words “designated public forum” as opposed to “limited public forum” or other similar language. Although many once believed the two phrases were interchangeable, some recent court decisions have suggested that using the word “limited” opens the door to school censorship as permitted under Hazelwood.

Second, using the phrase “student editors make all content decisions” is in many ways a clearer restatement of the meaning of “designated public forum.” It conveys the intent behind the public forum phrase anyone unfamiliar with the relevant Supreme Court rulings should understand.

To help schools understand what we consider public forums, please note these definitions:

  • Forums by policy: An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice: A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.


Resources

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not, Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism

Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

 

 

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Don’t let ‘funny things’ happen
on the way to your forum

Posted by on Mar 2, 2016 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller, MJE
sprclogoI can’t help but wonder if Pseudolus and Marcus Lycus had been journalism educators if a funny thing would have happened on the way to the forum.

For you nonmovie buffs, Pseudolus, played by the late Zero Mostel and Marcus Lycus, played by the equally late Phil Silvers, were leads in the comedy play and movie, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a slapstick comedy about Rome.

Had they been J teachers or advisers, it’s likely one of their daunting tasks would have been, aside from reserving hotel rooms for a JEA conference, determining what kind of forum they wanted to help students establish for their student media.

Sounds simple, yes?  Actually, no.

Many scholastic media outlets appear to come up short when developing and posting an editorial policy.  It appears that common practices are to:

  • Just call a publication “a forum.”
  • Call it an open forum.
  • Call it a limited-open forum.

Or if all else fails,

  • Not have a policy at all.

For the record, none are acceptable.   So what’s the solution?  Obviously, develop a policy that your readers can easily find and understand.  A media level editorial policy generally includes a mission statement, a letters to the editor policy, guidelines for submitting guest essay and, of course, a pronunciation as to what kind of forum your media is.

It’s not a good idea to have your media be an ‘open forum’ because, technically, that would mean you’ll accept any and everything, which could make your media a wild west show. Besides, your building is not an open forum, so you cannot be something that your school is not.

The trend about 15 years ago was for school media to be considered ‘limited open forums,’ but it wasn’t clear as to how limited the forum would be and who would establish those limits.

In the fourth edition of the Student Press Law Center’s “Law of the Student Press,” the discussion regarding limited public forum says the interpretation in “recent court rulings” is that the term ‘limited public forum’ “…has become practically meaningless.”

The book explains that “…in the middle tier of forums – a “designated” public forum – the government’s ability to regulate the content of speech is extremely limited.  The book further adds that “Only where a compelling justification exists, and the restriction is narrowly designed so as not to limit more speech than necessary, will a regulation is narrowly designed so not to limit more speech than necessary, will a regulation be upheld as constitutionality permissible.”  The entire discussion about limited open forums can be found on pages 52-53 of the fourth edition.

While legal eagles are likely to continue refining the guidelines for establishing a specific forum for student media, it is safe to say designated forums are the best options for student expression and generally (a key word) give student journalists the support they need to produce free and journalistically responsible student media.

The compromise, so it seems, is to have scholastic media be “designated forums of student expression.” The intent is to clearly establish that the media, print or digital, is not only the source of information for a student community, but also the place where students can voice their opinions.

While legal eagles are likely to continue refining the guidelines for establishing a specific forum for student media, it is safe to say designated forums are the best options for student expression and generally (a key word) give student journalists the support they need to produce free and journalistically responsible student media.

Examples of editorial policies can be found at SPLC.org or at the JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s web site, JEASPRC.org.

It’s essential that you and your student media staff research, establish, write and include a comprehensive editorial policy in every issue and on every student digital media site.

Because the last thing you want to end up with is comedy tonight.

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Questions about public forum status

Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Foundations_bar

When your publication is a public forum
and when it is not

sprclogoby Mark Goodman, Professor and Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, Kent State University
School officials’ ability to legally censor school-sponsored student expression at public junior high and high schools is determined by whether they can meet the burden the First Amendment places on them to justify their actions. Often the most important question in that analysis is which of two First Amendment standards they have to meet.

  • The Tinker standard (as defined by the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)), which says schools can censor only if their actions are necessary to avoid a material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion of the rights of others. This language may sound vague, but as the courts have interpreted it, the Tinker standard is a very difficult one for school officials to meet and typically requires them to show evidence of physical disruption before their censorship will be allowed.
  • The Hazelwood standard (as defined by the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)), which says schools can censor if their actions are reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns. Although this standard requires school officials to justify every act of censorship as educationally sound, it is a standard that gives school officials more extensive authority to silence or punish student expression.

How do you determine which standard applies? Forum status.

The Supreme Court made clear that the standard it created in the Hazelwood case did not automatically apply to every school-sponsored student publication. Rather, to determine which standard applied to a particular act of censorship of a student publication, a court must first ask this question:

Has the publication, by either school policy or practice, been opened as a designated public forum for student expression?

Even curricular, school-sponsored student publications may still be entitled to strong First Amendment protection and exempt from Hazelwood’s limitations if they have been designated a “public forum” for student expression.

The Supreme Court made clear that the standard it created in the Hazelwood case did not automatically apply to every school-sponsored student publication. Rather, to determine which standard applied to a particular act of censorship of a student publication, a court must first ask this question:

Has the publication, by either school policy or practice, been opened as a designated public forum for student expression?

How do you determine public forum status?

A public forum is created when school officials have “by policy or by practice” opened a publication for use by students to engage in their own free expression.

In the Hazelwood case, the Court said that it believed that both the policy and practice at Hazelwood East High School reflected school officials’ intent to exercise complete control over the student newspaper’s content. That finding prompted the Court to say a designated public forum did not exist. Nevertheless, student publications at other schools with different policies and different practices relating to editorial control can be public forums. Where student editors have been given final authority over content decisions in their publications or where a school policy explicitly describes a student publication as a designated public forum, the Tinker standard will still apply.

At schools where student editors are given the authority to make final decisions about what will be included in their publication or where a school policy reflects an intent to give students that authority, public forum status will still be found and schools will have to meet the Tinker standard before they can legally censor.

Is your publication a designated public forum?

In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever that student journalists and their advisers know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression. The language of those polices (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language that reads something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Two things are important about the phrasing of this policy statement. First is the use of the words “designated public forum” as opposed to “limited public forum” or other similar language. Although many once believed the two phrases were interchangeable, some recent court decisions have suggested that using the word “limited” opens the door to school censorship as permitted under Hazelwood.

Second, using the phrase “student editors make all content decisions” is in many ways a clearer restatement of the meaning of “designated public forum.” It conveys the intent behind the public forum phrase that anyone unfamiliar with the relevant Supreme Court rulings should understand.

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Impressed by the FAPFA winners? Show everyone your forum status, too

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Impressed by the First Amendment Press Freedom Award schools? We are.

We would bet, though, there are more student media out there that would qualify as forums. So, between now and next fall when the next FAPFA deadline comes around, let others know of your forum status by applying to be recognized  this Scholastic Journalism Week.hazelwoodcolor

Go to the Center for Scholastic Journalism website and learn more about that recognition, and then submit the online form to apply.

Establishing your student media as open forums for student expression – not closed or limited forums – can make a huge difference in developing a Hazelwood Cure. The best forum is like preventative medicine. The worst is like being exposed to active disease cultures. The information and resources below can help you on the road to wellness.

CSJ recently added these schools as open forums, and their locations will be pinned on CSJ’s Google map:

•Lafayette High School, Wildwood, MO.
• Eureka High School, Eureka, MO.
• South Hadley High School, South Hadley, MA.

Links to map resources:

• Forum definitions,

• List of designated open forums,

• CSJ Forum PowerPoint in case you have further questions about your forum status

• CSJ Forum Application.

Need another eight reasons to work toward designated public forum status/?

Daniel Reimold wrote 8 ways a landmark Supreme Court ruling has changed student journalism on the Poynter website Feb. 21. His main source, SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte, called the Hazelwood decision’s input of scholastic journalism “sheer devastation.”

If nothing else might convince those public forum schools out there to become recognized for their achievements this article and its key points, might.

Reimold ended the article with this quote from LoMonte: I’t disheartening to see anyone censored,” said LoMonte, “but it’s doubly disheartening when people are so frightened and intimidated that they won’t even speak up about it. You’re never going to change public policy until the decision makers perceive there is a widespread problem.”

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