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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,

Reasoning/suggestions:

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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So your student media
want to do senior wills? QT10

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Because senior wills have minimal journalistic value and great potential for damage, they should not be used in school publications.

Seniors wills have been dying a slow death in high school yearbooks. Yes, students love them, but can we defend them as a journalistic device? Do they represent the best of our work, and the most creative way to tell the stories of students in our schools?

Publishing something information not related to all students and which creates significant issues of review might have harsher outcomes than foreseen. Passing Senior Wills off to the senior class for publication might be a workable solution to solving a clash between professional standards and meeting student desires.

 

Guideline: Because senior wills have minimal journalistic value and great potential for damage, they should not be used in school publications.

Question: What is the journalistic value in publishing senior wills?

Key points/action: Seniors wills have been dying a slow death in high school yearbooks. Yes, students love them, but can we defend them as a journalistic device? Do they represent the best of our work, and the most creative way to tell the stories of students in our schools?

Stance: Students need to balance their free expression rights with their mission and social responsibility to truth, accuracy and verified reporting. Senior wills should be taken out of your yearbooks and replaced with better ways of telling student stories.

Reasoning/suggestions: Publishing something information not related to all students and which creates significant issues of review might have harsher outcomes than foreseen. Passing Senior Wills off to the senior class for publication might be a workable solution to solving a clash between professional standards and meeting student desires.

Senior wills are a vestige of the past and serve little purpose in advancing the stories of the school year. When you allow senior wills, you are inviting others to create content for the product which has your name behind it. You lose control of the message and invite students the opportunity to include inside jokes, Libel, innuendo or other messages which may harm other students in your school. Content could slip in that covertly bullies or harms members of your community, and you would be responsible for it.

Resources: Winner of ‘worst reputation’ award sues Ind. High school over comments in newspaper

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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Censorship lessons

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

In the era of the fight against fake news, we believe journalists must be aware of the social climate surrounding the work they do. The attacks and delegitimization of the news media on a national scale shouldn’t make us question the work we do.

We must be able to educate ourselves and our audiences about the role and mission of a 21st century journalist.

We’ve created this set of tools for educators to promote discussion about truth and credibility in the media we access as makers, sharers, consumers and evaluators. Our lessons are listed below:

Censorship

In this noncontinuous lesson, students will localize the 2016 Gallup survey “Free Expression on Campus: A Survey of U.S. College Students and U.S. Adults.”  Students will use their technical writing skills to craft the directions (teachers and students), questions similar to the Gallup questions, and an email in addition to tabulating and comparing the survey results. Students will then compare their results with the national results, create an infographic and then write a reflection of the process.

The lesson starts by providing a prompt in which students examine what they would like to cover, but feel they can’t for some reason. Discussion addresses why this self-censorship exists and examines whether this self-censorship should be abandoned.  

Students and the public have a right to view many records kept by schools, municipalities,  states and federal government. Students should review how to submit a public records request and understand the legal aspects of doing so.The Student Press Law Center also hosts an open records letter generator to make it easy to do. Most often, the Freedom of Information Act request will come at a time when you might be crunched for time. Use this lesson to become more familiar with your rights under the Freedom of Information Act.

To go to another of the fake news categories in Tools of Truth:

Sloppy reporting

Satire

Deceptive news

Home

 

Contributors

Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

John Bowen, MJE

Maggie Cogar, CJE

Michael Johnson

Lori Keekley, MJE

Jeff Kocur, CJE

Kristin Taylor, CJE

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Prior review v. prior restraint: Quick Tip2

Posted by on Aug 24, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

In brief, the Journalism Education Association has found prior review has no educational value. Instead, JEA believes it is simply the first step toward censorship and fake news. Prior review also contributes to self-censorship and lack of trust between students, advisers and administrators. Prior review conflicts with JEA’s adviser code of ethics.

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.

Prior review itself is a form of prior restraint. It inevitably leads the reviewer to censor and student journalists to self-censor in an effort to assure approval.

An officially designated adviser, when working with students and offering suggestions for improvement as part of the coaching and learning process, who reads or views student media before publication is not engaged in prior review.

 

Possible Guideline: Prior review and restraint

Question: What does prior review mean and how is it different from prior restraint?

Key points/action: In brief, the Journalism Education Association has found prior review has no educational value. Instead, JEA believes it is simply the first step toward censorship and fake news. Prior review also contributes to self-censorship and lack of trust between students, advisers and administrators. Prior review conflicts with JEA’s adviser code of ethics.

Stance: JEA would define prior review and restraint as follows:
• 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.

Quick Tips are small tidbits of information designed to address specific legal or ethical concerns advisers and media staffs may have or have raised. These include a possible guideline, stance, rationale and resources for more information. This  is the second in the series

  • Prior restraint occurs when someone not on the publication/media staff requires pre-distribution changes to or removal of student media content.
  • Prior review itself is a form of prior restraint. It inevitably leads the reviewer to censor and student journalists to self-censor in an effort to assure approval.
  • An officially designated adviser, when working with students and offering suggestions for improvement as part of the coaching and learning process, who reads or views student media before publication is not engaged in prior review.

When an adviser requires pre-distribution changes over the objections of student editors, his/her actions then become prior restraint

Reasoning/suggestions: Students learn more when they make all publication choices. Prior review and restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism.

The only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely. No administrator has ever shown any educational value in prior review.

Continued democracy depends on students understanding all voices have a right to be heard and assuring all viewpoints have a say in their communities.

ResourcesQuestions advisers should ask those who want to implement prior review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

SPRC Talking points blog

SPRC Talking points

Definitions of prior review, prior restraint

Lesson: Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

Why we keep harping about prior review

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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