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Pursuit of accurate information clearly
part of scholastic journalism’s mission

Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

To some administrators, it’s ‘curses, FOIA’ed again’

By Stan Zoller, MJE

When a student journalist pursues a story and, as H.L. Hall would say, “digs” for information, most journalism educators would be pleased.

And so too, you think, would administrators.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s becoming more common for school czars to be rankled by a student’s dogged pursuit of information.

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Consider emotional impact as well as news values
when choosing images QT49

Posted by on Feb 7, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Visual Reporting | 0 comments

Censorship should not be an option

by Kristin Taylor
When the editors of the Panther Prowler, the student-run school newspaper for Newbury Park High School, decided to write
a feature article about teenagers having sex in 2015, they knew it was going to be controversial. The controversy wasn’t just about the content of the article, however — it was also about the image they paired with it, which appeared on the cover of their special edition magazine.

Since the article’s focus was the impact of limited sex education in and out of the classroom, the editors decided to use an iconic sex ed image: a condom on a banana.

Respecting the students’ freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and California Education Code section 48907, administrators did not censor this feature. However, its publication led to an outcry in the parent community, many of whom believed the adults at the school should have censored it.

In an open letter to the community, editors Grace O’Toole and Courtney Brousseau explained their purpose in using this image.

While acknowledging that some felt the picture was “obscene or scandalous,” the editors argued, “It is the quintessential image of sex education. Moreover, it is a nurse-honored, military-practiced, and physician-approved method of teaching safe sex, and while it is not employed at NPHS, public schools across the nation model the proper method of practicing safe sex as a part of their official health curriculum. For this reason, we felt it reflected the angle of the article without sensationalizing the issue.”

The students also pointed out that those upset with adults at the school were missing the point. “It is important to note that while our adviser and administration did protect our guaranteed freedom of press, they did not produce or in any way endorse the magazine,” they wrote. “The decision to publish and distribute the magazine rested solely with the editors of the publication, not the adviser or the administration.”

O’Toole and Brousseau did not back down from their choice to use this image, but they did choose to take down the posters they had distributed to advertise the upcoming special edition. They also did not include the image when they published the article online.

“We maintain that [the images on the posters] were not obscene or pornographic. While they may have been suggestive, they were not revealing,” they wrote. “That being said, we did take [the posters] down several days before the distribution of the magazine. We didn’t want the buzz surrounding the posters to detract from our original intention of starting a productive dialogue and for that reason, we chose to focus on what is important – the article.”

This situation illustrates a few important takeaways about visual images and student journalism:

  • Just as with other forms of content, students should have final say over any image they choose to publish. Responsible editors should be ready to explain why they used the image if challenged by the member of the public, but they should not self-censor if they feel a controversial image is justified.
  • Student publications that operate as public forums for student voices provide some legal protection for adults and the school itself, as they operate separate from these entities.
  • Students should evaluate whether the impact of a controversial image will overwhelm the purpose of the reporting. If they feel the image might overshadow the message or is merely sensational, they may want to adjust accordingly.

Ultimately, students have a right to publish images along with their other content, but they should have a discussion about whether those images will hurt or help the main focus of their reporting when warranted. Having a consistent process and ethical guidelines helps student reporters to make good decisions about their images.


Quick Tip:

Visual images and censorship


Students should consider not only the news value of an image but also the emotional effect of the image on the audience. 

Social Media Post/Topic:

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, should journalists be 1,000 times more careful about them? And what if someone wants to censor one?


Students should have ethical guidelines in their staff manual to guide their decisions about visual images and be able to explain the newsworthiness of any image they publish. Student editors should have final say in all content decisions.


Just as with other forms of content, students should have final say over any image they choose to publish. Student publications that operate as public forums for student voices provide some legal protection for adults and the school itself, as they operate separate from these entities.

Responsible editors should be ready to explain why they used the image if challenged by the member of the public, but they should not self-censor if they feel a controversial image is justified. Students should evaluate whether the impact of a controversial image will overwhelm the purpose of the reporting. If they feel the image might overshadow the message or is merely sensational, they may want to adjust accordingly.

When constructing a process for determining whether to publish an image, students should consider many questions, including:

  • is this image important and relevant to the story?
  • What makes it meaningful?
  • Will the audience understand the information conveyed without reading any accompanying text?
  • What story does it tell?
  • What story would others be able to get from that photo?
  • What, if any, warnings should accompany online content?
  • Is there an alternative, better, way to show the story?


Visual ethics guidelines, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

Visual Journalism, NPR Code of Ethics

Lesson: To Print or Not to Print, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: A Picture Never Lies, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: When Journalists Err Ethically, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: Pushing Photo Editing Boundaries, Journalism Education Association

Lesson: With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility, Journalism Education Association

SPJ Code of Ethics, Society of Professional Journalists

NPPA Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association

Photojournalism ethics needs a reexamination, The Poynter Institute

Visual ethical guidelines join online, yearbook ethics, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Audio: Using Images from Social Media, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee Press Rights Minute

Audio: Ethics in Editing News Photos, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee. Press Rights Minute


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Today is Day of Action Day
for curing 30 years of Hazelwood

Posted by on Jan 31, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The SPLC has events scheduled throughout Jan. 31 to bring attention to the negative effects of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, which gives public schools the right to censor student publications. Now, more than ever, we need a coordinated effort to protect student journalists’ rights.

Here’s how the SPLC suggests schools (and others) can speak out about the damage this case has brought:

  1. Speak out on Twitter and Instagram why you think student journalists deserve better than the Hazelwood standard using #CureHazelwood.
  2. Change your profile picture to #CureHazelwood to help support the cause.
  3. Tune in to Facebook Live. At the top of every hour from 10am ET through 7pm ET we’ll have 10 minute mini-broadcasts from lots of cool people talking about the impact of censorship on student journalists and the need to overturn Hazelwood. We even have Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey (the named plaintiff and brave student journalist) as one of the guests.  Everyone will be broadcasting live from the SPLC Facebook Page. Make sure to like the page and follow us so you don’t miss it! (Full schedule here.)
  4. Check out our Hazelwood: Then and Now webinar: Hear from former SPLC directors Frank LoMonte and Mark Goodman and current senior legal counsel Mike Hiestand as they talk about what it was like when the Hazelwood decision came down and the rise of the New Voices movement in response. Tune in to our YouTube channel at 11 a.m. ET.

Two videos developed by JEA’s SPRC also talk about Hazelwood’s history and legacy.

A one minute roundup.

And a 3.5 minute explainer:

The SPRC also  has the additional materials about Hazelwood:

A Teacher’s Kit for curing Hazelwood

Payng the cost of Hazelwood

• Seeking to cure the Hazelwood blues

Another 45 essential words


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Journalists shouldn’t be ‘pawn in game of life’

Posted by on Nov 22, 2017 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller, MJE
A classic scene from Mel Brooks’ classic, “Blazing Saddles,” is when the ox-riding Neanderthal, Mongo, played by the late Alex Karras, professes to Bart the Sheriff, played by the late Cleavon Little, that “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

It’s a funny scene, but when you apply the “pawn in the game of life” scenario to scholastic journalism, it loses its humor.

This appears to be the case with the student journalists on the staff of the Evasntonian, the student newspaper at Evanston (Illinois) Township High School.

After the Sept. 22 paper was confiscated by the English Department chairman, reportedly because of a spread students did on student-use of marijuana, questions began to emerge as to why the department chair took the action even though Principal Marcus Campbell knew of the spread. In emails obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, Campbell told some colleagues that “you may get questions, but state law prohibits school administrators from censuring student publications” (sic).

At face value there is reason to be optimistic, albeit a little, on two fronts. The first is that an administrator knows about Illinois’ recently enacted New Voices law, and secondly, he has indicated he’s not going to challenge it.

So why would a subordinate, in this case the English Department chair, over rule him? Good question.

Several sources have told me there are long-standing differences of opinion between the department chair and the adviser and, so it seems she wanted the last word, even it meant usurping the authority of principal.

The perceived personality issue spilled over to the Board of Education, which on Oct. 9 heard from student journalists and representatives of various community organizations. As previously reported on this site, one school board member called for a discussion during open session at the next school board meeting, Nov. 13.

No big deal. However, following a FOI request requesting emails about the Evanstonian situation, the Nov. 13 School Board meeting was highlighted by a 45-minute ripping of the Board member for emailing student journalists and the adviser.

While the terse and unprecedented exchange was the focus of the meeting, what was lost was the resolution of the Evanstonian situation.

According to one of the paper’s student editors, after a meeting with the superintendent, principal and department chair, it was determined that questions relating to the publication would be handled by the principal. According to one student editor, he does not plan to regulate or manipulate the publication’s content. Hopefully he’ll be more proactive.

So, what lies ahead? A lot of monitoring. With the adviser retiring this year, the door is, unfortunately, wide open for the administration to morph the program into its own image by setting strict guidelines for the new adviser.

It will be imperative, albeit a challenge, for journalism educators in the Chicago area to work with the new adviser, perhaps as a JEA mentor, or perhaps through membership in the Illinois Journalism Education Association (IJEA).

No matter what level of experience the new adviser will have, she will need to be well versed on Illinois Public Act 99-0678, the Speech Rights of Scholastic Journalists Act.

The need is simple – to ensure a free and responsible student media at the school – and to keep the student journalists from once again being pawns.

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Responsibility in scholastic media starts with
ethics, accuracy, complete story QT23

Posted by on Oct 23, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Administrators may want student media that depicts the school in a positive light, that promotes good news and overlooks the negative.

Is this responsible journalism?

Advisers may want student media that reflects students’ technical proficiency such as mechanics, grammar and style. Little else matters.

Is this responsible journalism?

Students may want to preserve tradition, give students the content they want, focusing on predictable content sure to avoid administrative displeasure.

Is this responsible journalism?

The goal of responsible, ethical journalism is not met by simply deciding stories cannot be published or media practices that produce no educational value. Journalistic responsibility is a layered, textured process.

Resolution of content issues will not come from a series of “don’ts” framed for the students.

Resolution will come through thorough, accurate and credible journalism shaped by a strong mission statement, empowering policies and a staff manual rooted in ethical guidelines that enable student growth, critical thinking and decision-making.

Resolution is not created  by publishing fake news forged by censorship and fear of censorship.

Strong journalism is rooted in ethics, empowered by trust and enabled by policies and guidelines that demand responsibility.

Journalistic responsibility.


Quick Tips: Journalistic responsibility

Question: What we speak of responsible journalism, what do we mean?

Key points/action: Responsible journalism is ethical journalism. Administrators demand responsibility but the trouble is groups define it differently.

Responsible and ethical journalism is accurate, complete and cohesive. It’s credible and has integrity.

These elements combined create a path to ethical journalism. The path is much more difficult, if not impossible, censorship, prior review or self-censorship because students are intimidated from carrying out responsible journalism, exist

Journalism that is censored, incomplete and lacks context is not responsible. It’s fake news.

Stance: Journalistic responsibility begins with empowering student media to practice the little things:

  • Access to accurate, complete and truthful information
  • Ability to present information in context
  • Access to credible and trustworthy sources through interviewing, observation and research
  • Leadership through their content, decisions and actions
  • Opportunities to decide all content for student media, to apply the principles, skills and practices they are taught and learn from their successes

As student journalists take these steps, they will maintain the idea of free expression as democracy’s cornerstone,


Common threads of responsible journalism connect school officials, student journalists and news-media professionals. Guidelines expressed here reflect the belief student journalists and school officials share a commitment to the schools’ educational mission and practices, and that commitment focuses on building stronger and engaged citizens.

Responsible student journalists accept ethical guidelines and practices to best serve their communities. Responsible administrators embrace and enhance journalistic practices that carry out the mission of scholastic media and of the school in fortifying information their communities need to make informed decisions and action in a working democracy.

To that end, we build goals for journalistic responsibility by:

  • Establishing policies and practices that enable thorough, accurate, complete and cohesive reporting of student-decided content.
  • Applying critical thinking and decision-making skills and practices to assist students as they become productive citizens in a democracy.
  • Empowering advisers’ development and use of substantive journalism curricula and application experiences.
  • Maintaining open lines of communication between students, faculty and staff, administrators and communities designed to build trust create a maximum environment for truthful and complete sharing of information.
  • Reporting accurately, thoroughly, credibly and cohesively so process and product model integrity.
  • Operating student media that publish information in verbal and visual context that enhances comprehension for the greater good of all communities.

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.


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