Posts Tagged "censorship"

Honor – and elevate – all programs
during Scholastic Journalism Week


by John Bowen
With Scholastic Journalism Week starting Feb. 22, it would serve us well to note SPLC executive Frank LoMonte’s words in this week’s Education Week.

LoMonte covers a number of points he suggests disrespect and trivialize high school journalism: mistreating female scholastic journalists, establishing the lowest, barely legal level of freedom for scholastic media and undermining the news-literacy obligation of a high school education.

As we rightfully celebrate our strengths in scholastic journalism next week, we should also heed LoMonte’s points so we help others reach the levels of scholastic journalism programs we honor.

Check out a story here about such a situation where the principal  is quoted as saying, “The school paper here at school is mine to control.”

Examine LoMonte’s thoughts, compare with the comments of the principal, and commit ourselves to elevate all journalism programs as they strive to reach the uncensored educational quality of the ones we honor most.

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The freedom to speak:
the John Wall Voices Act


by Faith Harron, sophomore
Century High School
Century Star newsmagazine

sprclogoThe Constitution of the United States guarantees all are created free and equal and endowed with the same rights.

When it comes to journalism, though, many high school and college students are not equal to their adult counterparts.

Some a few in North Dakota are trying to change that. With the backing of representatives Jessica Haak and Corey Mock, a bill was written by college students at the University of Jamestown and introduced it in the House this month.

The current bill, the John Wall New Voices Act, is something different. It would grant student journalists in high school (like me) as well as college limited First Amendment rights to publish school newspapers.

“The John Wall New Voices Act is a wonderful tool to ensure student journalists are provided the same freedoms that professional journalists are awarded thanks to our First Amendment,” said Corey Mock, assistant minority leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives. “Since I had been working on the bill with Rep. Haak since April of 2013, sponsoring the bill was the easiest decision I have made all session long.”

Censorship is akin to blunting a pen, or even writing in invisible ink. What purpose does the story serve if it never sees the light of day? This is sometimes the case when prior review is allowed.

This allows the censorship of “questionable content.”

But who is the judge of “questionable content?” Is it the authorities in the school? The journalism advisers? The students, who have been taught to judge between right and wrong?

Jeremy Murphy was a West Fargo teacher who was fired because there “was a difference in philosophy when it came to student journalism and how students decided content for the publications,” he said.

He was later rehired by the school district and continues to teach journalism with no prior review, and adds “there is probably a fear factor when it comes to a bill on student expression…some people might think it allows students free reign on what they can do.”

However, there are guidelines written into the bill for appropriate student speech. But there are other concerns about the bill.

Censorship and the chilling effect are hard to prove. We can show how…widespread this issue is nationally, and we hope that our legislators will know that we North Dakotans are not immune. – Steven Listopad, University of Jamestown


“[A] threat to a bill like this is the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ principle,” said Steven Listopad, the teacher who helped his Jamestown students draft the bill. “Censorship and the chilling effect are hard to prove. We can show how…widespread this issue is nationally, and we hope that our legislators will know that we North Dakotans are not immune. We North Dakotans, just like any other human being, will choose more control over less in any given situation even though when it comes to your right to speak less control is exactly what we need.”

What started as a class project in COMM 412: Civics and Citizen Journalism at the University of Jamestown has become a bill…and possibly a law.

“The John Wall New Voices Act will be heard by the House Education committee this month and hopefully given a ‘do pass’ recommendation before it comes to a final vote on the House floor,” Mock said.

I’m just one high school journalist, and I can’t say I speak for all undergraduate nonfiction writers out there. But I would never consider writing something libelous or obscene. Knowing my peers, I don’t believe they would, either.

It’s a bill. It won’t solve the world’s hunger problems, and it won’t make everyone equal. It probably doesn’t matter to everyone in the world.

But it matters to me, and my peers, and maybe it can help someone share their story. At the very least, it’s a start.


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Working together can make a difference


by Stan Zoller, MJE
Maybe we should take a cue from our brethren in sports.

Let’s win one for the Gipper.

All for one and one for all.

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

As journalism educators, we strive for excellence in our individual programs and thrive on the recognition we get when our students excel. We also appreciate the recognition for our own professional efforts.

But when programs come under fire – whether it’s censorship, prior review, prior restraint or whatever, there is strength in numbers. If you are in a multi-school district, make sure the student media advisers get together on a regular basis during the school year to discuss how things are going – and not just bemoaning the fact that deadlines are not being met.

I heard about a district where there was an edict handed down to yearbooks that not all of the yearbook advisers knew about it. It turns out it was focused on one yearbook, and not the others in the district. Interestingly enough, the discussion about covering non-school sponsored teams did not, so I was told, apply to newspapers because “they’re different.”

It’s essential to make sure decisions regarding any student media are shared with all student media. If you are not in a multi-school district, trying connecting with other area advisers to see what issues, if any, they may be facing. Not sure which route to go? Take a look at the conference your athletic teams compete in and use that as a springboard for an advisers forum.

Make sure too that you include advisers with all levels of experience. Advisers with extensive tenure should not dominate because they’ve been teaching for decades. New advisers bring new ideas and the exchange among veterans and newbies can not only be invigorating, but helpful as well. Go beyond the “I” and make sure you incorporate plenty of “we” in your advisers group.

And as is the case with any team, a combination of rookies and veterans can really make things happen.

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‘Broken Glass’ should serve as a solemn reminder


Lessons of Kristallnacht go beyond the history books

by Stan Zoller
sprclogoImagine if you will, that one day your administration comes in and without cause, dismantles your journalism classroom, publication office, and burns every copy of your newspaper and yearbook.

Then, without provocation or notice, the administration corralls your student media staff and yourself and threatens you with termination and your students with expulsion.

All because of who you were and the fact that you and your students advocated and used a voice.

Sound preposterous?

Sure it does.

But in fact it has happened.

Monday, Nov. 10, was the 75th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht,’ often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” The events of Nov. 9 – 10 were an effort by the Third Reich to round up and arrest more than 30,000 Jews and destroy as much of the property as possible.   In addition to destroying homes and personal property, synagogues were targeted as well as their contents.

While Kristallnacht is often connected to broken glass, a focus of the attacks was on the books by Jewish authors. Fires raged throughout Germany as books were burned.

For those journalism educators who teach J-1, a primary lesson focuses, of course, on the First Amendment. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. How simple is that? And how many times has a young journalist rolled their eyes as they strain to remember them.

It’s easy to forget when there are other things to do – like Tweet, eat, and, of course, meet a deadline.

It’s easy to forget when we are fortunate to have freedom of expression, even if it’s challenged by an overzealous administration.

But the reality is that we can’t forget, which is why Holocaust awareness efforts often include the phrases ‘Never Forget’ or ‘Never Again.’

Cynics will say it’s a “Jewish thing” and an isolated case, but if you take a deep breath and look what at transpired after Kristallnacht, it was more than a “Jewish thing.”

Perhaps as a devout and practicing Jew I am more sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust and the events leading up to it. Like Kristallnacht.

But I am a career journalist and a journalism educator, so I have had the luxury to practice what the Germans tried to take away 75 years ago.

The images and stories of Kristallnacht are chilling, as are most stories associated with the Holocaust. It’s the lessons, however, that we need to take away.

The intent of Kristallnacht, historians say, was to silence the Jews, eradicate their freedom of expression, destroy their freedom of speech, keep them from assembly, let alone their right to petition. As for the freedom of the press – nonexistent.

Nazi Germany did not have First Amendment rights. Imagine if you will, what life would be like in the United States if we did not have First Amendment rights.

Imagine if you will, coming to school and facing the chaos of a Kristallnacht. You probably can’t. The lessons associated with the First Amendment need to go beyond rote memorization. Students, whether in a journalism class or civics class need to understand what life would be like if we did not have First Amendment rights. They also need to imagine what it would be like if prior review and prior restraint were government mandated daily routines to silence student voices and reprimand those who taught students to have that voice.

Sure, it’s “only” 45 words, but the power behind them is unprecedented as is our right to practice them.

Perhaps educators and student journalists – or maybe all journalists need to reflect on that when Kristallnacht is remembered.

Because when you think about it, it’s not just a “Jewish thing.”

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Embattled editors tell
their powerful stories at SPLC dinner


Sometimes it’s the bad things in life that help a person find a cause, a passion or a pathway. From a Pulitzer Prize-winner who sued his principal in the ‘70s to two teens, still closely involved in censorship issues at their own schools, those at the Student Press Law Center’s 40th anniversary dinner Oct. 16 heard stories every teen journalist and adviser should hear.

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