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Brett Kavanaugh’s 1983 yearbook provides teachable moments

Posted by on Sep 27, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Yearbook | 1 comment

Yearbooks are forever.

We wear this statement on matching T-shirts, mail it home on marketing postcards and proudly display it on homemade posters created by dedicated publications staffs nationwide.

But less than one week before National Yearbook Week 2018, the phrase takes on new significance during the hearings surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Earlier this week, Kavanaugh’s 1983 Georgetown Prep yearbook page made the news for its references to drinking and partying along with coded mentions of a female classmate that appear to be demeaning inside jokes.

Seeing a yearbook page in the news is always a teachable moment, of course. Journalism teachers can show students — and other stakeholders — the value of yearbooks as historical record, as memory keepers and, depending on one’s perspective, possibly as a sort of character reference. The way people hold on to yearbooks, as Heather Schwedel describes in this Slate article, draws attention to a student publication 35 years later as a form of historical evidence.

What complicates the larger discourse is the social media noise, which quickly shifted to placing blame on the yearbook adviser and others responsible for producing the publication. A tweet by Soledad O’Brien questioned the adviser, and the comments that followed illustrate the wide range of uninformed public opinions about what should and shouldn’t find its way into a yearbook — and who plays a hand in that decision.

What can yearbook staff members learn from the 1983 Cupola?

Recent H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year winners share their perspectives to help add context and offer guidance for students and teachers discussing this in their journalism classes.

 

What is the role of the adviser?

“Advisers are responsible for helping guide staff members in understanding their responsibilities and through challenges they face. They are not there to censor or to dictate content. They are there to provide support, advice and direction. Advisers are not there to serve as editors of student publications. They are there to help students establish the standards and guide them.”

— Brenda Field, MJE; Glenbrook South High School (Glenbrook, Ill.)

“First and foremost, the role of the yearbook adviser is to teach responsible journalism. If we’re doing our jobs, then students will be equipped to make responsible decisions regarding content. And this is what happens every single day in yearbook journalism classrooms across the country. Yes, I read every word that went into the books I advised, as that was the expectation in my school and community. But it was the editors and staff who ultimately determined content.”

— Cindy Todd; retired from Westlake High School (Austin, Texas)

 

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Signing on as FAPFA candidate makes powerful symbolic statement

Posted by on Nov 23, 2016 in Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 2 comments

Confession: For the past 10 days, I’ve spent a good chunk of time glued to media coverage of President-elect Trump, reading about his meetings with prospective leaders and reports of cabinet appointments, cries against Hamilton and SNL on Twitter and updates about the on-again, off-again New York Times meeting.

My nervousness mounts as we transition to a new president known for his attacks on news organizations, for bullying those who ask tough questions, for threats to “open up” libel laws, for ugly rants against those who hold steady to report on the record the actions of our leaders.

And while I’ve made sure to read, donate, sign petitions and facilitate respectful dialogue, I’ve also spent the past 10 days thinking about my journalism students. What can I do? What can we do? What can they do?

As is often the case, the greatest potential for impact is within the classroom. It’s clear to me that my own students’ efforts practicing, protecting and promoting their First Amendment rights matter more than ever.

Next week, Dec. 1, 2016, is the deadline for JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award. I’m glad my students will apply, and here are three reasons I urge other scholastic media programs to do the same:

[1] The FAPFA process provides an important opportunity for students to revisit the core principles of their journalism program as they tell the stories of their school community through truthful and accurate reporting using a wide range of diverse, credible sources. The editors know their publication policies inside and out, but do the other staff members? Would every student on staff be able to answer the FAPFA questions accurately? Perhaps this an opportunity for editors to conduct a mini-lesson to educate or review with rookies some “What happens if …” scenarios.

[2] The possibility of recognition as a First Amendment school is another way to increase awareness in the school and throughout the community. Even if school administrators are supportive of students’ free expression rights both in theory and in practice, it’s likely there are community members who are less aware of what it means for students to make all content decisions free of administrative censorship. It’s another chance to spread the word about what the First Amendment means and why it matters.

Remember, 39 percent of Americans could not name even one of the five freedoms.

Can FAPFA recognition serve to make all stakeholders better understand the educational significance of providing students with an outlet for free expression and the long-term benefits of empowering students with the responsibility of the decision-making process?

Celebrating a school’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award recognition can play a role in the case for scholastic media curriculum development and the long game in protecting both First Amendment education and scholastic journalism specifically.

[3] Signing on as a FAPFA candidate makes a powerful symbolic statement at a crucial time.

My own students have protection from California Ed Code 48907, but they’ll still be using the opportunity JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award provides. In other words, they’ll apply for the award because they can. It’s a chance to speak up and speak out for why that freedom of expression matters so much, and a chance to draw attention to states where students don’t have that right.

Discussing the questions on the first-round FAPFA form reminds students that not every student media program is lucky enough to operate in a student-led environment with journalists empowered by the critical thinking experience of their decision-making process. It puts things in perspective. It emboldens them to use the tools at their disposal, creatively and positively, to fight the good fight. It draws attention to the injustice in schools and states with administrative censorship and helps increase efforts toward press rights legislation.

Editors can proudly share their efforts in attempt to leverage that social currency and widen the scope of attention for First Amendment freedoms just when the New Voices movement — and new White House administration — need it most.

 

by Sarah Nichols, MJE

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Where do trust and prior review meet?

Posted by on Oct 5, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Leading a scholastic media staff in the shadow of Hazelwood

sprclogoby Chris Waugaman, MJE
A lack of trust can destroy scholastic journalism. We have seen it in a number of recent cases.

The scenario involves a student publication and a disgruntled administration. The cause of this tension can come from a variety of places, but in the end what has been broken is trust.

After this point, the battle of what you can and cannot censor in prior review becomes the first battle in an all out war. Sometimes it is unavoidable. But if there is a way to stop this from happening it begins with trust.

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