More than 25 years after the Supreme Court limited First Amendment protections for high school student journalists, a survey of students and media advisers attending a national scholastic journalism convention indicates censorship is a fact of life in many schools.
Of the 5,506 students and teachers who attended the National High School Journalism Convention in Boston, Mass., Nov. 14-17, 2013, 531 students and 69 advisers responded to survey questions asking about their experiences with censorship of student media.
Significant numbers of both students (32 percent) and advisers (39 percent) said school officials had told them not to publish or air something. Thirty-two percent of advisers reported a school official reviews the content of their student news medium before it is published or aired. And 60 percent of students said someone other than student editors had the final authority to determine the content of the student media they advise.
by Sarah Nichols, MJE
Does a story posted online lose value over time? Is it as important to our readers — and to our media organization — as it was when the story broke?
This important question was the editors’ first true test of the year in the student media program I advise. What first seemed like possible censorship led to a great discussion as they talked about whether to fulfill a request to remove a story posted almost exactly one year prior.
As with any scenario, I thought carefully about the factors when I got the call — in the middle of a different class period, an hour before heading out of town, shoveling down a Chobani as my only meal of the day. The editors responded to my text and said they would stop by in 15 minutes. How will the questions I pose shape their discussion, I wondered?
Trevor Ivan, a graduate assistant in the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State from 2008 to 2012, recently finished his thesis, “A Framing Analysis of News Coverage Related to Litigation Connected to Online Student Speech That Originates Off-Campus.” Below, he discusses the study and its implications for scholastic journalism educators and press rights advocates.
by Trevor Ivan
From my own beginnings as a high school journalist, I’ve always understood that the news media present the public with a window to the world. Without the news, most of the countless interactions, occurrences, triumphs and tragedies that take place each day would remain the experience of but a handful of people.
But it’s always fascinated me to explore how the news media portray specific issues and people. While journalists often preach objectivity and fairness as central tenets of their craft, human nature—as well as time, spatial and resource constraints—influences how they gather and organize information.
Media scholars and sociologists often refer to that selection process as “framing” an issue. Robert Entman described framing in an article in the Journal of Communication as selecting some aspects about a given issue or experience to make them “more salient in a communication text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation.” As a simplification, framing is a way to consider likely interpretations—Are the spending proposals in a budget bill a waste of money or an initiative to improve community life? Are police portrayed as guardians of public order or overzealous tyrants seeking power for its own end?
When I entered grad school, I started exploring framing as it related to political issues, namely how the news media framed both foreign policy and political candidates. However, one day the question struck me about how framing might apply to news coverage of scholastic press rights. The idea mulled around in my head, but I never did much with it until I was looking for a clearer focus for my master’s thesis.
I discovered the doctoral dissertation of Megan Fromm (an SPRC member). Her research examined how the news media framed eight seminal court cases related to high school and college student press freedom. It occurred to me that no one had explored how framing applied to coverage of court cases related to off-campus online speech, a very relevant issue given the rise of online social networking and easily accessible publishing tools.
Considering whether public school administrators, who act as government officials, do or should possess the right to discipline students for speech they create away from school grounds is pertinent to scholastic press advocates because government interference in speech always raises First Amendment concerns. In addition, any such discretion afforded to administrators to control off-campus speech could pave the way for discipline of independent student reporting or whistleblowing that take place off-campus.
Pitted against these free speech concerns is the equally pressing matter of finding effective ways to combat cyber bullying, especially when the speech is directed toward another student. Off-campus activities can profoundly affect the school environment. The online world furthers blurs the line between school and home.
This study was aimed at discovering how the news media discuss school discipline of off-campus speech given the somewhat precarious balance of free speech and personal safety. I paid particular attention to the legal context the stories contained as well as to how they portrayed the actions students and school administrators involved in the case and the online speech itself that precipitated the lawsuit.
I performed a textual analysis of 76 news stories related to four recent federal court cases that involved school discipline of off-campus online speech: Layshock v. Hermitage, J. S. v. Blue Mountain, Doninger v. Niehoff and Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools. The Supreme Court denied hearing all four of the cases between October 2011 and January 2012.
Several significant findings emerged from the analysis: a lack of sufficient legal context, a conflicting frame that classified the student actors in the cases as either aggressors or victims of an overreach of school authority, a frame of strategic battle to describe how both parties in the case related to each other, a use of descriptors and qualifiers in place of specific details of the content of the speech that spurred the lawsuit, a general sense that the speech in the four cases was not worthy of First Amendment protection, and a conflicting frame of school administrators as the guardians of order versus overreacting victims.
You can read the full study at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/134978665/A-Framing-Analysis-of-News-Coverage-Related-to-Litigation-Connected-to-Online-Student-Speech-That-Originates-Off-Campus
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
by Gloria Olman
Hazelwood stories: Twenty-five years before the Hazelwood Supreme Court decision, I was defending students’ right to publish on topics from a teacher strike to locker searches and letters to the editor.
“I will defend your right to publish all the way to the Supreme Court, but it will be on a serious matter, not a gossip column, and you will have covered all sides of the issues,” I repeated each school year.
After four years, I moved out of state. Returning, I tried to substitute teach in that district but was not hired. “You were teaching students things we didn’t want them to know… …yes, the First Amendment.” That was still prior to the 1969 Tinker and Zucker decisions.
By 1977, I was advising in a different district and always gave the principal a heads up on issues. While he did not always agree with the paper’s content, he expressed his opinion to the students and never interfered with publication. The Hazelwood decision did not change that relationship. However, it did reinforce the importance of educating students on laws, ethics, rights and responsibilities. They needed to understand, not only to be responsible journalists, but also to defend their rights to sometimes hostile faculty members and others.
When a new principal dismissed my protest that he had no legal grounds to remove a story and I refused to do it, he “directed” me to pull it. Students took over, using lessons from our September discussions. As they prepared to file their case, my life became increasingly difficult. Some faculty members and coaches refused to allow the paper sold in their classrooms or to be interviewed. They also would not talk to me. District administrators regularly met with me, trying to limit the paper’s content and to remove me as adviser. It was a miserable time.
Hazelwood cast a pall on scholastic journalism. Advisers may fear loss of tenure and/or job, and allow administration to overrule them on issues. Others may lack journalism background to build and defend programs. Complicating this, administrators often have been given false or misleading information related to student media. This impacts the struggle to establish open forum status as district policy.
Another significant Hazelwood effect is the increase in self-censorship, the “we can’t print that” often heard at workshops and continuing on to college journalism classes.
Yes, Hazelwood did affect my teaching. The principal’s directive led to the 2004 Dean v Utica Community Schools U.S. Federal District Court decision. That case has been called the most important legal victory for student media since Hazelwood, and a turning point in the struggle against increasing censorship. It was a serendipitous end to my career.
Gloria Olman, MJE, is the 1992 Dow Jones News Fund Journalism Teacher of the Year, and taught at Utica High in Michigan.