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Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out

Posted by on Aug 23, 2014 in Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Yearbook | 1 comment

What’s best for students? We return to that essential question constantly as decision-makers in every realm of education. In the “yearbook yikes” dilemma featured in this month’s Ethical Educator column in School Administrator magazine, the solutions address what may be best for one student but fail to mention what’s best for many others.

Where are the student editors in these discussions?

The opportunity to plan and produce student media is a valuable learning experience from start to finish. The communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking students on a yearbook staff experience continues well beyond the final page submission. Deciding how to handle the altered photo and ethical lapse is an essential piece of their learning.

Because students should be responsible for all content decisions, they also should be accountable to their audience and to each other. If the superintendent takes action to remedy the yearbook error, students are deprived of a major lesson in critical thinking and decision-making skills tied to journalistic standards and civic responsibility.

Ideally, student journalists address those standards and responsibilities long before producing even a single yearbook page by creating publication policies. With guidance and support from a trained journalism teacher, students define and put in writing what they stand for and why. The policy then serves as a guide — a commitment to themselves and their audience — for all future decisions. It includes what they will cover and why as well as how to handle errors, omissions, corrections and more.

If the students involved in the “yearbook yikes” dilemma have no such policy, this is an important lesson for them. Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out and so they learn and grow from the process. As editors identify who was responsible for the altered photo and how to handle it (both internally with consequences and improved staff procedures as well as publicly and with the affected student), they can reevaluate their process and make it right.

Plenty of great resources exist to aid in this process, such as the Model Code of Ethics from the National Scholastic Press Association, which charges student journalists to be accountable with a commitment to admit mistakes and publicize corrections. The Society of Professional Journalists also offers an extensive collection of policies journalism teachers can use with their students in these important discussions. The bottom line is that this dilemma affects many more students than just the one pictured in the yearbook, and administrators should consider the long-term effects as well as the shorter-term needs of addressing a parent complaint.

As a student media adviser, I know firsthand the inaccuracy of Sarah MacKenzie’s claim that “… most yearbooks are already gathering dust on shelves only to be retrieved for class reunions, if at all.” Even months after distribution day, students cart yearbooks to school events, pull them from their backpacks daily, poring over pages together to read stories and carry them on vacations to review the personal memories, photos and details of times passed.

That’s all the more reason student editors should strive to meet journalistic standards and operate with integrity, and absolutely why student editors should be accountable for their decisions, including determining the best solution to this and any other dilemma. With a stronger emphasis on their “why” as a staff, training and support from a qualified adviser and empowerment to solve problems based on their own critical thinking, students learn important lessons and make better decisions.

And that, of course, is what’s best for all students.

Sarah Nichols, MJE, M.Ed
teacher/adviser, Whitney High Student Media
2010 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
vice president, Journalism Education Association
@sarahjnichols

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Remembering James Tidwell

Posted by on Apr 17, 2014 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment

by Stan Zoller

If you were to make a list of the amazing advisers who grace the walls of journalism scholastic education notoriety, odds are you would start rattling of the awards he or she has won.

Pacemakers, Write-off winner, state JOY winners, Best of Show winners, etc.   And the list would keep on going.

Tidwell

Dr. James Tidwell

Recently, journalism education paid homage to a journalism educator whose program never won an award.

Not one.

But there’s a reason for that – he never taught scholastic journalism.

That, however, did not stop James Tidwell, chairman of the Journalism Department at Eastern Illinois from taking the lead as an advocate for student press rights in Illinois.  Nor did it stop him from heading up the Eastern Illinois Scholastic Press Association and being Executive Director of the Illinois Journalism Education Association.

Oh, by the way, he was also instrumental in starting the Illinois High School Association’s state journalism tournament.

Although his “home” was the college campus, Tidwell knew  journalism education began in high school.

So when pancreatic cancer beat Tidwell April 12, it was a loss for journalism and journalists everywhere – high school newsrooms, college newsrooms and professional newsrooms.

Tidwell quite simply not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

“James worked with high school journalism from his earliest years as a professional, but the fact is that his love of high school journalism started with his experiences as a high school journalist in Oklahoma, “notes Sally Renaud, IJEA Executive Director and professor of Journalism at EIU.

“He always talked fondly of his own high school adviser and her tremendous influence on his career, which included work on his campus newspaper and for professional newspapers. He has used his respect for his adviser and the passion she helped instill in him at an early age as motivating forces in his career in regards to high school journalism,” Renaud said.

How much so?  Just ask longtime adviser Randy Swikle.

“In the mid-1990s, no one worked harder on state legislation defining scholastic press rights in Illinois than James. I know,” Swikle said, “because I was at his side as he lobbied from office-to-office in the Capitol building. Hundreds of hours were spent devising strategy and campaigning for HB 156. At day’s end, the House passed the legislation 109-4, and the Senate approved 57-0. Unfortunately, the governor unexpectedly vetoed the bill.

Why?  Because Tidwell believed in a free and responsible press for scholastic journalism.  It was his passion.

And he instilled that passion through not only his knowledge, but through an uncanny ability to take – or rather make – time to work with advisers and journalism teachers.

“James was often called upon to offer his expertise and advice in such areas as prior review, copyright and libel. I often heard him on the phone with high school advisers who sought his counsel, who asked his advice on a concern or problem in their school,” Renaud said.

“He always made those of us who had the privilege of serving on the IJEA board as though we were a part of his family,” IJEA President Sarah Doerner said.  “It will be difficult to imagine IJEA without him.”

Fittingly, the IJEA has renamed its annual Educator of the Year in Mr. Tidwell’s honor as the “Dr. James Tidwell IJEA Educator of the Year” Award.

It will be difficult to imagine the battle for press rights without him.  Tidwell was a rare breed.  Awards and honors were not a motivating force for him.  Preserving the First Amendment and making sure scholastic journalists had a foundation steeped in press rights from which they could build a journalistic future was all the motivation he needed.

Awards?  They may look good on the wall, or on your desk.

But having the opportunity to work with James Tidwell and absorb his warmth, knowledge and passion was an award I know I will cherish.

The challenge I, and my guess is most journalism educators, face is how we can embody and continue the spirit and passion for journalism education and student press rights that James had.

I guess I just need to heed the advice of the late David ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister who once said “this is the land of miracles; the miraculous we can do today; the impossible will take a little longer.”

Emulating James Tidwell will take a little longer.

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Hazelwood: Time to assess its impact
on educational process, civic engagement

Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

hazelwoodcolorby Randy Swikle
Former JEA Illinois state director

On the 25th anniversary (Jan. 13) of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision, the high school student press in America is at risk.

Instead of engaging students in the functions of American journalism, some school authorities want to relegate student news media to mere academic practice, to public relations facades for shaping school images and to vehicles for disseminating primarily the perspectives sanctioned by school administrators.

Such a controlling approach is contrary to the best interests of scholastic journalism, student welfare, community awareness, school accountability and core principles of American democracy. It leads to arbitrary censorship and even intimidation.

Too often autocratic control is prioritized over the school mission of empowering students and giving them well-defined autonomy within the parameters of law, order and journalistic ethics. Too often teaching obedience is prioritized over teaching responsibility, and clout rather than collaboration is used to resolve contention.

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A Praxis about journalism?
What do YOU know?

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Candace Bowen

Chemistry teachers take a test showing they know electronic configurations based on the periodic table. History teachers demonstrate what they know about the early river valley civilizations. And the list goes on.

But how often and where do journalism teachers have to prove their knowledge?

Not too often, if the Praxis content area tests are any measure. There has been no such test for future journalism teachers until recently, though the list of tests for those teaching other sorts of courses is long.

First, full disclosure: I know nothing about electronic configurations and even less about early river valley civilizations. I don’t even know too much about the Praxis content area tests.

But the latter isn’t my fault. As soon as I heard about a month ago that such a test exists, my goal was to find out about it.

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