by Candace and John Bowen
April 1. April Fools.
JEA listservians have carried out a lively discussions on the merits and demerits of publishing April Fools editions. SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte even said to keep his center’s phone number and e-mail address handy if students published such an issue.
Tough decision. Some commercial media publish such pieces. Why not scholastic media?
We think there are two core reasons for not publishing an April Fools issue:
• The information is known to be false. We spend the rest of the school year developing our credibility over controversy and defending students’ rights and obligation to print the truth. Then in one day we throw caution to the wind and go with information that is not only untrue but even could be taken to be misleading.
• We give others the right to know what is coming. Prior review. Prior approval. We do this, in some cases, with the best of intentions, so sources will not be caught unaware, and to make sure information is not too far out of line. We might even mix the untrue with the true, hoping our audiences can tell the difference. This scares us. We, including those of us carrying out JEA’s official position, argue and rant daily about the educational dangers of prior review. So in this case we want to say, here, check it out ahead of time? What will we say to those, now used to prior review, when they ask for it on something of substance?
Various journalism experts stress that ethical journalists do not add what is not there.
That includes making up information that is not true, or real.
Think about what you want your brand, your reputation, to be. Stick to credible journalism.
Modified and reposted from an original piece March 2, 2010:
by H. L. Hall
As we celebrate Scholastic Journalism Week this month, it is imperative we keep the 45 words that help students cover sensitive, controversial issues in a responsible manner. It’s amazing to me every time I teach a workshop, a seminar, or even a session at a JEA convention, I try to give (normally $20) to the first student who can recite those 45 words. In the last 20 years (not counting the $1 I give advisers at the ASNE Reynolds Institute at Kent State each summer), I have only had to dig in my wallet for a total of $40. I am yet to give away $35 to advisers each year at Kent State, but I have witnessed some clever ways to recite the words.
Is it really difficult to memorize those 45 words? They’re really quite simple. They are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I hope those 45 words are posted in large bold letters on every classroom wall.
The First Amendment Center has conducted several surveys over the years concerning the Amendment . Those surveys have revealed that not even half of Americans can name all five parts of the Amendment. That indicates to me that few people really care about the importance of those 45 words.
Even though the Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it does not give journalists the right to be irresponsible with those actions.
There are several examples of professional journalists who have lost their credibility because they have made up quotes, made up facts, failed to gather all the facts, manipulated photographs, plagiarized or violated copyright laws.
Student journalists might gain a better understanding of why they need to act responsibly when utilizing their First Amendment rights, if they researched the stories of some professional journalists who were irresponsible.
A good exercise would be to have students write a brief research paper or make a brief oral report about a professional who lost some credibility. Then they could analyze that person’s action and come up with suggestions as to how the journalist and his editors might have prevented the questionable behavior.
Some journalists to consider would be: Jayson Blair, Patricia Smith, Jack Kelly, Armstrong Williams, Howell Raines, Michael Kinney, Rick Bragg, Dan Rather, Bob Ryan, Mary Mapes, Bill O’Reilly, Griego Erwin, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch Albom, Bob Green, Jim Van Vliet, Janet Cooke, Patrick Schneider, Geraldo Rivera, Allan Detrich, Stephen Glass, Don Imus, Brian Walski, Bryan Patrick and Sari Horwitz.
Some of the journalists listed above lost their jobs. Others received suspensions. Others are still working journalists. Whatever the result, they caused their medium to lose some credibility. Once credibility is lost, it’s difficult to get it back. It might be a good idea to create a poster for the classroom which says “All We Have To Lose Is Our Credibility.” If those words are before students every day, they might think about being responsible with everything they do.
Tomorrow: Second in a series of posts and activities to go along with Scholastic Journalism Week from the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission. Tomorrow’s will talk about the TAO of Journalism, what it means and how to sing up your staff to follow it.
Even though the “Great Roethlisberger Hoax” is history, parallel effects could be long-lasting.
What will happen to fact-checking, verification and synthesis in print media – and online – in the future? After all, there are some who would argue that journalism’s use of social media creates a new standards.
The need for speed outweighs the need for accuracy.
Scholastic journalism has had its own version of the hoax in the April Fools issues each year. I hate to think what could happen it they go online.
Credibility and integrity are at the heart of this incident, and NPR’s On the Media made the incident the focus of its Sept. 3 show. Wise defends his intent, which he said was to show that far too many “journalists” would pick up and repost his “scoop.”
Listen or read the transcript of the show. It is well worth your – and your students’ – time now, and maybe even again in April because it speaks to issues raised by legacy media and the potential for their rebirth online.
(For more information, go here and here).
Essential to the distribution of information that strengthens the credibility of scholastic media and its integrity, whether by legacy media or multimedia, is sound information gathering and attribution.
Some interesting resources that can supply needed perspective and depth, build credibility and demonstrate leadership roles through reporting:
• Journalist’s Resource from Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy which provides access to sources for plenty of strong story ideas that can be localized.
• NewsU from The Poynter Institute. NewsU offers free (and some for pay) online courses where your students can learn everything from basic reporting skills to how to handle international reporting. Even better, the courses are not just all print, but cover extensive multimedia skills and topics. Students can self-direct through the courses or teachers can use them in class.
• The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press offers extensive research that can be used to localize stories. A link to a July 15, 2010 survey on political knowledge is especially interesting. Other Pew resources include Journalism.org which provides more research but also links to numerous resources, including the principles of journalism.
• Part 2 of a continuing series on missions of scholastic media and how to achieve them from The Center of Scholastic Journalism.
Credibility is a fleeting commodity.
A sound information agenda, using reliable sources, can go a long way to ensure credibility.
For a lighter way to emphasize a serious topic – attribution and news credibility – check out Journalism Warning Labels by Tom Scott.
Scott lists himself as a “geek comedian” but his warning labels speak eloquently to a serious issue: how to get journalism students – and even more importantly – their audiences to recognize sloppy and inadequate reporting.
With a little adaptation, creative thought and news literacy modification, his project could lead to some serious learning done in a fun way.
Now to figure out how to place labels on student websites, broadcast and social media reporting as well as on print.