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
by Jane Blystone
Scholastic journalists often make a difference in their school and community by publishing story packages that are live issues in their locale. However, when students choose not to publish something, they still a make a difference in their school, community and in the public media.
By majority vote of the editorial board of the Neshaminy High School, (Langhorne, Pa.) newspaper, the Playwickian voted in October not to publish the name of their school mascot in the paper. This decision has raised much awareness and controversy about a term they believe is racist and is the name of their school mascot (‘Redskins’ hereafter referred to as the “r” word.)
Late in October, I receive d a phone call from Playwickian editor Gillian McGoldrick, who wanted some support and direction from the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Commission (www.jeasprc.org) regarding an editorial that her staff had published October 23 about the choice of the editorial board (14-7) not to use the name of their school mascot any longer in their student publication because it was a racist term. (See editorial.) In the same issue the seven students on the editorial board who dissented posted their opinion regarding the ‘r’ word.
The principal had demanded that they continue to use the term in their student publication. However, that was in direct opposition to Pennsylvania Code 12.9 regarding student freedom of expression: “(a) The right of public school students to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United states and the Constitution of the Commonwealth. (b) Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.” ( Pa. Code 12.9)
During discussion, we talked about several things she needed to do as the editor. First, she needed to contact the Student Press Law Center (www.splc.org), who could help her with legal council and then go to the JEA Scholastic Press Rights blog and push the Panic Button (see button in menu bar at the top of this page), where she could explain her staff’s situation. Once she sent that button, we Scholastic Press Rights Commissioners moved into action. Tweets and Facebook posts were launched describing the situation and linking to Playwickian online pages. Student and adviser support came pouring in across the country as SPLC attorneys executive director Frank Lomonte and legal counsel Adam Goldstein moved into action to provide guidance to the students. Read the follow up story here.
Editors were called to a meeting of the principal, which was moved to an evening meeting so parents of staffers could attend. After the two-hour meeting and a 53-page directive from the principal about why they must continue to use the school mascot name, even though they believe it to be a racist term, the students published a November issue.
A firestorm of support for the students moved out into the area media including the The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer. From there it went viral on Twitter and Facebook, ESPN, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as other national media outlets. Posts on their Twitter account and their Facebook pages also document opposing positions regarding not using the “r” word.
Students have engaged the Washington, D.C. law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz to represent them. The firm has informed the school district solicitor that the directive requiring students to use the “r” word in their publication is unconstitutional and that they will go to court if necessary.
Public media in the Neshaminy area are supporting the students by no longer using the “r” word in their publications when reporting on Neshaminy sports and the Bucks County Courier has called on the school board to intervene. “We call on the school board to act, to engage the community in a discussion, and to give students the validation and respect they deserve,” it said.
While student journalists at Neshaminy High School were forced to include the “r” word in their publications, cheerleaders in McCalla, Al. were punished for using the term “Trail of Tears “ on a banner they created for a football game in November. Dr. Stephen Nowlin, superintendent said he was disappointed that students at McAdory High School students used the term, considered offensive and insensitive to Native Americans. Although an apology was posted earlier by the principal on the school website, it no longer appears.
Editors of the Playwickian continue to educate the public on the Lenni Lenape Nation in Bucks County within their publication to demonstrate the impact of using the “r” word.
For her leadership in the process of removing the “r” word from her publication, 16 year-old editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick has been awarded the Widener University High School Leadership award that also carries a $20,000 scholarship if she chooses to attend Widener.
The battle continues and student journalists continue to make a difference. As one adult in the area shared with me earlier this week, “And children shall lead them” sums up the action of these responsible student journalists.
Why online comment and discussion policies are integral
By Megan Fromm
Last month, Popular Science, an online news magazine dedicated to all things techie, scientific, and often futuristic, decided it was closing the comments section for new online articles.
Staff members argued that in some cases, comments were bad for science, especially when the nature of online reader responses keeps writers from “fostering lively, intellectual debate …[and] spreading the word of science far and wide.”
Not surprisingly, the magazine relied on empirical research that shows just how poorly an influencer public opinion can really be when it comes to science, and they defended their position succinctly:
“If you carry out those results [of the studies] to their logical end–commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.” –Popular Science
Comment sections can be a tremendous boon for online news media. They allow readers to interact with staffers, critique news coverage, correct errors, or even offer interesting story ideas. In a perfect world, an online comment or discussions board (whether for each article or for the site as a whole) would help your news organization develop a strong rapport within your scholastic community.
As online media strives to create spaces for significant interaction between those writing the news and those responding to it, long-term consideration must be given to how those interactions are shaped, facilitated and moderated.
Just as newspapers have staff policies for readers who want to submit letters to the editor, online news media should also have clear and accessible guidelines regarding their comments and discussion sections. These policies might include guidance on the following:
- The intended purpose of your comments/discussion section.
- Whether comments on your site are moderated, and why.
- If so, who monitors what gets posted?
- Whether readers must provide identifying information before they can comment.
- What types of language/content is not acceptable?
- How can readers flag responses for moderator review or to be taken down?
- Will the website take down comments, and for what reasons?
- Can readers expect the writers of the story to respond to reader comments?
These are just a few questions that should be considered when using reader comments to facilitate interaction on your website. And while Popular Science may have decided that comments weren’t the right approach for their website, consider how encouraging civil reader feedback from your community could build trust and encourage consistent relationships with the very people you cover most in your scholastic news media.
by Mary Kay Downes
The loss of any student is a tragic event either through sickness, accident or suicide.
Often times staffs are shocked when events such as this occur and frozen into either inaction or precipitous action. They ask, “Do we cover this?” They ask, “How do we cover this?” They ask, “Should we call the parents?”
All of these are questions which can be taken care of by establishing a policy by the editorial board for inclusion in the staff manual having to do with death. We have a policy in our yearbook staff manual and it precludes any type of memorial page.
We include a picture of the deceased student in the senior section of the yearbook the year they would have graduated. It is in a box with year of birth and death. If a faculty member dies, we include a similar box in the faculty section of the current year’s book.
Marina Hendricks, a member of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission, has developed a “Social Media Toolbox” for use by student journalists and their advisers. The toolbox, available at hendricksproject.wordpress.com, features 16 lessons on social media plus related resources. The lessons can be used as a unit or individually, depending on the needs of students, advisers and school publication programs.
As a unit, the lessons are designed to help student journalists and their advisers navigate the transition into using social media as part of their publication programs. The unit starts with ethical decision-making to help guide students through the process. It continues with exploration of reasons for using social media, consideration of how social media tools are employed by journalists, and evaluation of the school community’s use of social media through a survey.