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Student journalism is not public relations

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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.

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Importance of scale in visual reporting QT67

Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Blog, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Journalists must be vigilant in ensuring charts and infographics do not inaccurately depict the information nor should it mislead the reader. Be weary of data interpretations from others — especially those who benefit from the results.

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Use of VR by scholastic media QT 60

Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in Blog, Digital Media, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Key points/action:

According to its proponents, Virtual Reality offers virtual and immersive storytelling that puts audiences into the scene and enables them to feel such emotions as fear. VR, proponents say, gives people authentic reactions of those in the real situation.

Commercial news media, and others,k are trying VR out across the country. Columbia Journalism Review calls VR “ascendant,” and cites ongoing projects like Harvest of Change and Project Syria. CJR also cites growing consumer interest in VR.

Despite commercial use and excitement about VR’s use, questions still remain for its use in scholastic media. The best thing for staffs to consider is whether using VR as telling stories or presenting news is the best platform or approach.

Some questions:

• Accuracy of context?

• Does its use reflect the preciousness of the real event?

• Is the information expressed in context?

• Are the images accurate and in context?

• Has nothing been added not in the “live” event itself?

What guidelines should student media adapt or create for VR that maintain the best of journalism’s ethical standards?


We feel there are no quick and easy answers, but plenty of ethical room for discussion and implementation of workable guidelines.


Before spending funds of the tools needed to make VR become a local and effective tool, student study how journalism organizations use it or plan to use it and how they handle ethical concerns.

ResourcesThe Future of News: Virtual Reality- TED Talks

Virtual reality is journalism’s next frontier – Columbia Journalism Review


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A presidential tweet that can hit home

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Stan Zoller, MJE
It was, for all practical purposes, just another tweet from the commander in chief.  “…Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

At face value you can say ‘well, it’s just Trump being Trump.”

But what if you got the same message from your principal?

You’d be outraged.  You’d post on the Listserv. You’d post on social media. You’d (hopefully) contact the Scholastic Press Rights Committee.

And you would be right.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

Before you start citing the First Amendment, take a moment to break down Trump’s post.

The latest onslaught on the media by the President Trump and the gang of henchmen and henchwomen who issue statements is the same sentiment often heard from district or building administrators – student media can say what it wants as long as its “accurate” – accurate, of course, being a synonymous with printing or posting only the information provided by the administration that makes it look good.

First, take a look at Trump’s first idea — cancel all future “press briefings” – It’s reprehensible for any public official, let alone the POTUS, to practice a lack of public access and transparency, which is what the Trump administration wants to do.  Journalism educators can use this as the proverbial teaching moment – but not on a global level – on a local level.

If a superintendent, principal or any other school official were to tell student media  they were not going to disseminate any information, odds are likely  advisers and their student journalists would, and justifiably so, be upset. The challenge for student journalists is to access the information.  Using public access tools like sunshine laws and Freedom of Information laws is a great place to start. Administrators at public schools have a legal, if not a fiduciary responsibility to provide all public information to the media – including student media. Students and advisers need to be up to date on their state’s open meetings and FOI laws. They should also have resources of citizen watchdog groups that can assist them.

Taking a further look at the Twitter-in-Chief’s tweet, his solution is to “…hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy…”

Seriously? On a global stage it makes no sense.  It’s condescending.  On a local stage it not only lacks sense and is condescending – it’s offensive to not only the student journalists, but also student media advisers.  It’s offensive to student journalists because it says school officials lack trust in them as not just student journalists, but journalists.

The message it sends to advisers is that they are not working with their students on the fundamentals of journalism, including fact checking and use of multiple sources.  Advisers and students should have a litany of resources including fact-checking and news literacy sites. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at,, and the News Literacy Project at, and the American Press Institute ( are great places to start.

Advisers and student journalists should also be current on the status of New Voices Legislation – especially if their state has a Speech/Press Rights bill on the books. Full information is available at or on the New Voices Facebook page.

Knowing the law can re-enforce your right, let alone the public’s right, to know.  In Illinois, for example, recently passed legislation allows administrators to bar content only if “… (1) is libelous, slanderous, or obscene; (2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (3) violates federal or State law; or (4) incites students to commit an unlawful act, to violate policies of the school district, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

This raises the bar for student journalists to do not only their best work, but practice unrestricted and responsible journalism.

This is something that is to be expected.

By administrators.

By advisers.

By student journalists.

And you’d think by the President of the United States.

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What core values do we share with administrators?

Posted by on Oct 11, 2009 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

As my colleague and good friend Jan Leach keeps rightfully reminding me, the toughest choices we make are about questions of right versus right.

That thought is also at the core of an online ethics course for scholastic and collegiate media teachers I teach for the first time this fall.

And I wonder if it is also at the core of trying to bridge what seems to be a growing gap between media advisers and school administrators.

Illinois journalism adviser Randy Swikle said it well many times: on what can We Agree?

To me, the core principles we should be able to agree on include accuracy, completeness, transparency and honesty, all in pursuit of truth. To achieve those I would add the educational values of critical thinking, decision-making, responsibility and civic engagement.

I am sure there are more we might have in common or might be able to agree upon.

What do you think?

What would you add? Share your thoughts below. It might make a difference.

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