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Student journalism is not public relations

Scholastic reporters should not feel pressured to present relentless stream of utopia, glossing over problems to cover the ‘good stuff’

Imagine the American press was only allowed to report on good news. No mention of problems in society, no opportunity to speak out against injustice or corruption — just a relentless stream of positivity with the government overseeing every piece of content.

Chilling, right? Yet, for some student journalists, this scenario is a reality. Administrators feeling pressure to protect the school’s image may pressure students to present a utopian version of the school, urging them to gloss over problems and only cover the “good stuff.”

But student journalism, like commercial journalism, is not the same as public relations.

News media’s primary goal is to inform the public, whereas public relations media’s primary goal is to influence the public’s attitudes and behaviors to benefit a specific individual or group

News media’s primary goal is to inform the public, whereas public relations media’s primary goal is to influence the public’s attitudes and behaviors to benefit a specific individual or group.

Student journalism publications should focus on informing the public regardless of whether that information puts the school in a good or bad light; they should not be confused as public relations media for the school.

Students can also investigate solutions journalismas a strategy to report on problems from the angle of how members of the community are seeking to solve those problems. Taking this approach may appease concerned administrators.

We don’t want a national press that pretends problems don’t exist under the watchful eye of the government, and scholastic journalism is no different. Empowering students to be responsible, ethical journalists and showcasing how this prepares them to be empowered, ethical citizens is the best PR a school can get.

 

Quick Tip: News publications are  not public relations

Guideline:Journalists often are considered mirrors of society. As such, journalism should reflect the community in which it is produced. In order to also maintain their watchdog function, journalists must also be able to act as candles that illuminate and cha

Monitoring the status quo and the powers that be is one way journalists can both reflect and challenge their communities. This journalistic practice helps maintain the free and accurate flow of information.

Student media should be independent of their school’s public relations arm. The purpose of student media is to report school and community issues and events. Consequently, the purpose of student media is not to protect the image of the school or district.

Social media post/question: Can student journalists report the truth, or are they pressured to only report good news?

Stance: We believe freeing student journalists and empowering them is the best PR a school could ever hC=ave.

School administrators should refrain from pressuring student publications to only publish “good news.”

JEA strongly believes free student publication programs showcase the importance of news and media literacy, civic engagement, critical thinking and decision-making as the core of lifelong involvement in a democracy.

Reasoning/suggestions: The goals of news publications and public relations media are different. News media’s primary goal is to inform the public, whereas public relations media’s primary goal is to influence the public’s attitudes and behaviors to benefit a specific individual or group.

Student journalism publications should focus on informing the public regardless of whether that information puts the school in a good or bad light; they should not be confused as public relations media for the school.

Here are some actions student journalists can take if pressured to only report on “good news:”

  • Invite administrators into the newsroom to discuss your process. Explain the concept of newsworthiness and how editors decide what should and should not be covered. Be transparent about your ethical code and verification strategies and demonstrate how the editorial board approaches controversial topics to ensure responsible reporting.
  • Explain that student journalism should reflect the community in which it is produced, and student journalists must also be able to illuminate and challenge a community’s values and preconceptions. Monitoring the status quo and the powers that be is one way student journalists can both reflect and challenge their communities.This journalistic practice helps maintain the free and accurate flow of information and helps students understand the role of the free press in our democracy.
  • Describe how student journalists free to seek the truth can provide unique insight into problems adults in the community may need to know about, such as uncovering hazing practices or drug problems on campus.
  • Share this story about how a team of student journalists uncovered credential fraud, saving the school from an unqualified principal, and how they have gotten national acclaim for their work, including being invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner.
  • Explain that a fully empowered student press is a powerful statement about schools’ missions to foster critical thinking and graduate students who understand their responsibilities as democratic citizens. Schools who support student free expression can apply for the prestigious First Amendment Press Freedom Award. Suggest looking at the criteria for this award and making it applying for it a shared goal for the school and student press.

Resources:

JEA statement on student free expression in a vibrant and flourishing democracy, JEA

The Role of Student Media, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

First Amendment Press Freedom Award, JEA

Teaching grit for citizenship — why we must empower, not shield students, Kristin Taylor, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Principals, presidents and getting along,  Candace Bowen, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

 

 

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