by Ellen Austin
What is it about March? Even Shakespeare noticed it, putting the soothsayer’s warning out to Caesar about the time span that begins this week.
So the bad news from the early Ides of March rolls in …
I read with great surprise and shock this weekend the news that a well-known and professionally recognized colleague posted to a Listserv about losing his current position as a journalism adviser at in suburban Chicago.
It reminds me of a quote attributed variously to Saddam Hussein, Stalin, and others of that ilk whose names have become synonymous with suppression: “If you have a person, you have a problem; no person, no problem.”
The ultimate form of censorship is eliminating a person’s ability to do or say the thing which might cause concern. It’s also the pernicious form of censorship that too many high schools and universities have used to quell and control the student voices they really wanted to affect.
That adviser is one of our very best, a leader who has devoted himself not just to his students but to the greater cause of scholastic journalism, including outside-of-school service to JEA and state journalism organizations.
If you’re reading this, know that you are also “skin in this game.” It’s not just about this colleague or others whose names flash by on the marquee of a Listserv. It’s about all of us, and the collective work we do. We work at the flash point in our schools, the place where we really get to see what kind of climate of free expression exists on our campuses. I remember being told by a mentor early on, “Be prepared: you will probably lose your advising job at some point, if you’re doing it right.”
Earlier this week, my colleague Paul Kandell and I are heading over to neighboring Mountain View High School to sit in on the board meeting in which the journ advisers are being asked to discuss their programs. Amy Beare, the adviser to the Mountain View Oracle, will be presenting to the board, with (I hope) a room full of supportive parents and students around her.
It’s Monday, and only a couple of weeks after our celebration of Scholastic Journalism Week. This is hard, but meaningful work that we do.
What am I trying to say here? Guess I don’t really know. Mostly, here’s my Monday note to say that this is a hard hard job — and one which sometimes requires us to say, “How much do I believe in this? How strongly can I stand for what I believe? How willing am I to face the cost that may come with standing?”
Good luck to all of us this week as we go through our classes and our deadlines. I will be crossing my fingers tonight across town in the hopes that a neighboring school board sees that student free expression is a scary, but wonderful thing. Love that U.S. Constitution.
Ellen Austin is Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year for this year
Achieving the most positive educational experience for everyone involved – students, advisers, administrators and community – is really simple. And it does not involve control or stripping the educational value of student media. Here are some suggestions:
• Hiring the most qualified educator to teach and advise your scholastic media or helping one without solid journalism background become more knowledgeable;
• Trusting and respecting those educator advisers as well as their student media editors and staff as the students make difficult decisions
(and sometimes make mistakes);
• Maintaining dialogue and offering feedback with advisers and student editors so they understand school administrator concerns, but where students understand that they have a real voice in the debate and have the freedom to excel.
Organizations that support these values, including the Journalism Education Association and others, stand ready to help administrators, advisers and student journalists with training opportunities, curricular materials and ongoing dialogue to keep them current on what’s happening in these important fields.
For more information on those groups:
• Journalism Education Association http://jea.org
JEA is the only independent national scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers. It supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, by promoting professionalism, by encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and by fostering an atmosphere that encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It offers a voluntary teacher certification program plus the Summer Adviser Institute and two national conventions a year, co-sponsored with the National Scholastic Press Association.
• Center for Scholastic Journalism http://jmc.kent.edu/csj
CSJ is a national clearinghouse with information for and about student journalists and their advisers, a research center on issues affecting scholastic media, an educator of journalism teachers and an advocate for student press freedom and the First Amendment.
• National Scholastic Press Association http://www.studentpress.org/nspa/
NSPA offers two national conventions with JEA, a summer workshop, national critiques and teaching materials for teachers, advisers and students.
• JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission http://jeapressrights.org and http://jeasprc.org
JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission offers teaching materials in law and ethics with an emphasis on free and responsible journalism and up-to-date information to enhance teacher information and leadership abilities. The links are to a website and blog.
• Student Press Law Center http://splc.org
The Student Law Center is an advocate for student free press rights and provides information, advice and legal assistance at no charge to students and the educators who work with them.
• Newspaper Association of America Foundation http://www.naafoundation.org
The Newspaper Association of America Foundation strives to develop engaged and literate citizens in a diverse society. The Foundation invests in and supports programs designed to enhance student achievement through newspaper readership and appreciation of the First Amendment. NAAF also supports research and has funded the repeat of a national study by Prof. Jack Dvorak of Indiana University entitled, “High School Journalism Matters.” It provides evidence to support the value of student media work as students who have participated clearly earn better high school grades, outscore their peers on college entrance exams and earn higher grades in college writing courses than those who were not involved in student media.http://www.naafoundation.org/Research/Foundation/Student-Journalism.aspx
• First Amendment Center http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org
The First Amendment Center is a clearinghouse for comprehensive research coverage of key First Amendment issues and topics, daily First Amendment news, commentary and analyses by respected legal specialists. It also has a First Amendment library of legal cases and related materials.
• Five Freedoms http://www.fivefreedoms.org
The Five Freedoms network is a nationwide community of educators, students and citizens who support the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Its projects and mission focus on enhancing the educational strength of the First Amendment.
• High School Journalism http://hsj.orgHigh School Journalism is offered by the American Society of News Editors and offers lessons plans, articles and advice from commercial journalists and a wide variety of educational materials. It also offers six free, two-week summer workshops for new adviser/teachers and those wishing to gain additional information. The workshops are at six universities around the country
• Quill and Scroll http://www.uiowa.edu/~quill-sc/
Quill and Scroll is the International Honorary Society for High School Journalists and sponsors contests, scholarships and educational materials for students and advisers
• Columbia Scholastic Press Association http://cspa.columbia.edu/
CSPA offers contests and critiques, a large national spring convention and a fall workshop for advisers, teachers and students. It also has a strong adviser organization.
• Friends of the Spoke http://www.friendsofthespoke.org/Friends_of_The_Spoke.html
Friends of the Spoke is a student-designed and -run website, conceived to convince a school board not to adopt prior review. It succeeded.
The Student Press Law Center, in its May 4 blog, put JEA’s newly adopted definitions of prior review and prior restraint into legal and educational perspective.
“If a school official insists on reading a student publication ahead of time, they will eventually try to censor it,” SPLC consultant Mike Hiestand wrote. “I would like someone to prove me wrong on this, but I’ve never seen an established system of prior review that has ever remained a pure “reading only” practice.”
In its newly adopted guidelines, JEA created the following definitions:
• Prior review occurs when anyone not on the publication/media staff requires that he or she be allowed to read, view or approve student material before distribution, airing or publication.
• Prior restraint occurs when someone not on the publication/media staff requires pre-distribution changes to or removal of student media content.
“In the real world …” Hiestand wrote, “experienced, trained advisers that work closely with their students, offering suggestions for improvement — often after reading the content ahead of time — can be a valuable and welcome resource, something the JEA recognizes in excluding such ‘advising’ from its definition of prior review. But even advisers, the definitions recognize, can go too far, and ‘when an adviser requires pre-distribution changes over the objections of student editors,’ the definition states, ‘his/her actions then become prior restraint.’”
Check jeasprc.org soon for recommendations on how advisers can assist students without making decisions for them or requiring them to make changes they don’t want to make.
Today I attended a conference sponsored by my state organization the Washington Journalism Education Association. Students and advisers from all over the state met to listen to speakers and, most important, share ideas and discuss problems. Your state organizations as well as JEA are invaluable sources for advisers.
In your school, you are one of a kind. No one there really understands your situation. However, advisers from other schools do and can help you. In fact they are eager to do so.
Your students can meet other young journalists at these conferences and exchange idea with someone with similar interests and problems. Advisers have the chance to connect with other advisers and get lifelines to people who understand. Believe me, you make lifelong friends as well.
Please make these connections, exchange papers and ideas with other schools and lend your expertise as well as get help from others.
State and national organizations all have web sites with important links to sources of help for you and your students.
Advising is a challenge but you don’t have to meet that challenge alone.
Fern Valentine, MJE
Student newspapers have two ways to avoid legal problems. Your students can never print anything controversial, creative or of interest to their readers, or you can teach your students how to write about controversy responsibly.
This responsibility begins long before the story is printed. Having your editors check the interview notes of the reporters can quickly reveal that the students haven’t talked to the all the right people to get a balanced story. It gives time to check out possible liability and to get permission to use quotes in place.
It also prevents procrastination, always a problem for all of us.
Students often only talk to their friends, or, worse yet, use the internet and don’t localize the story by talking to students, administrators or local sources. Brainstorming sources and questions can help get students off in the right directions.
Have your editors negotiate reasonable individual story deadlines for these notes and stick to them. Extending deadlines needs to be done ahead of time and in extreme cases only. If a student isn’t “dead” for missing a deadline, deadlines don’t mean a thing.
Interview skills are a sellable skill and one that journalism classes teach well. You might remind your administrators that, although they might prefer not to answer students’ questions about controversial topics, the students are really learning important skills that will help them in all sorts of situations throughout their lives.
Role playing interview situations with beginners can teach those skills and can be loads of fun as well.
Adding “interview notes” to the list of deadlines can help get things moving early and make sure that stories are well balanced and have the important information that will avoid legal problems when the story is published.
Fern Valentine, MJE