Have a journalistic purpose in mind for every story you write/propose. Don’t write stories to be sensational. #25HZLWD http://jeasprc.org/decision-students/
Those who want to control student media often point to incomplete, biased or sensational treatment of stories. It really does not matter if the topic is controversial in nature. What does matter is that students, no matter the platform or approach, report and present these topics following journalistic standards – and that they make the final decisions for all content.
• Journalists must learn to recognize legitimate news values.
• Journalists must verify, verify, verify.
• Journalists must ask the tough and nagging questions of authorities and others a democratic society needs to continuously evolve and prosper. They must also then question the answers for complete and relevant meaning.
• Journalists have the inherent responsibility to find the best sources and to present relevant information in context and perspective so citizens have adequate viewpoints to consider.
• Journalists must find not only the best resources but substantiate sources’ information they use as well as present it clear and meaningful.
The school year is just starting and already those who want to control student thinking and decision-making are hard at work.
In an Ohio school that boasts the state’s highest testing scores, prior restraint started last year and a nearly 20-year adviser was removed against her will over the summer. The reason given, one heard so often over the last six months, was the administration wanted to go in a different direction.
In Indiana, an adviser was stripped of journalism classes and the publication subjected to prior review. The reason: too many typos and grammatical errors. The principal might not even be conducting the private review; instead, that might be the job of a committee of students, faculty and others.
Thanks to the New York Times, teachers and advisers like the ones above, ones who face administrative control or work for those who don’t see the value of journalism to promote authentic learning, now have something to promote their values.
In using The Learning Network coverage for their Student Journalism Week, The Times provides advisers with an opportunity to reinforce the myriad of scholastic journalism positives by making creative use of the following topics:
• A Guide to Rights and Responsibilities
• The Value of School Newspapers
• Three Benefits of Newspaper Programs
• Using News Models for Authentic Writing
• Resources for School Newspaper Advisers
These articles present principles that should enable all of us to embrace and spread the values of scholastic journalism either in our own schools or with others who need to know what we so strongly believe:
Scholastic journalists, when empowered and trusted, produce coherent reporting and thinking in authentic, accurate and substantive communication.
And that is what education is all about.
In reviewing for a unit on media literacy for my online ethics class, I found this in the “Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel:
“A newspaper that fails to reflect its community deeply will not succeed,” the authors quote Jack Fuller, president of the Tribune Publishing Company. “But a newspaper that does not challenge its community’s values and preconceptions will lose respect for failing to provide the honesty and leadership that newspapers are expected to offer.”
That started me thinking about how scholastic media reflect their communities (and which communities there are to reflect) and what responsibility is involved.
That led to several other questions:
• What do journalism educators see as the responsibilities of scholastic media?
• What do student journalists see as their responsibilities in scholastic media?
• What do administrators see as the responsibilities of scholastic media?
• What happens if the parties define responsibility differently?
• Are these responsibilities absolute or is there room for compromise?
• What does compromise mean?
• Does how we define compromise make a difference?
• Who decides?
If developing – or maintaining – an educational atmosphere supportive of freedom of expression is important, we really must answer those questions.
As I try to form workable answers, more questions arise:
• Should compromise include legal issues?
• Should compromise include ethical issues?
• Should compromise occur on substantive beliefs?
• What happens if one or both parties decide compromise does not solve the issue?
Since most major approaches to problem solving include compromise, these are serious questions in need of a process that provides answers.
Rushworth Kidder in chapter 8 of “How Good People Make Tough Choices,” Kovach and Rosenstiel in “Elements of Journalism” and Randy Swikle in the McCormick Foundation’s “Protocol for Free and Responsible Student News Media” all address the need for compromise in reaching ethical solutions to issues. Each approach provides insight into problem solving.
The next step, if we are going to truly derail the prior review and censorship express, is to create models of theories that work. We have the groundwork for understanding, so now it’s time to model a process of creating constructive and ethics-based solutions now handled by prior review and/or restraint. To do so, we must also answer the inherent questions so all parties are willing to participate.
Can we agree to create an environment where freedom can survive?
Rushworth M. Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, highlights an ethical process called the Potter Box in his book, How Good People Make Tough Choices.
This process, first discussed by Ralph B. Potter in 1965, suggests four steps decision-makers should consider before making policy or taking action:
• Consider the situation
• Determine what values are involved
• Examine the relevant principles at stake
• Determine where loyalties lie.
While applying the concept of the Potter Box might not be new, it could aid scholastic media in its decision making before publication or broadcast. Working in concert with Rethinking News values, discussed here Nov. 16, the Potter Box offers students a chance to evaluate principles and values in context with loyalties. Such a process could well preclude administrative or other outside interference.
What, for example, could happen when the principle and value of telling the truth comes into conflict with being loyal to a school or administration that might not see the value of discussing controversial topics like homosexuality or gay marriage.
Kidder says in his book that the Potter Box, while useful as a guide to thinking and focusing decision-making, does not fulfill several other ethical principles such as using the Golden Rule, or Kant’s categorical imperative.
“It allows for a reiteration of ideas through several cycles of discussion,” Kidder writes, “in hopes that a consensus will eventually form around a particular action or policy.”
Such pre-publication discussions could lead to consideration of alternative approaches and outcomes. It might help student media anticipate before they act and plan their approaches to get the most complete, most balanced story, even if the topic is controversial.
And that would be good.