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Arkansas student journalists lose publishing rights, regain them, support from other journalists

Posted by on Dec 9, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues | 0 comments

by Jackie Mink, JEA Emeritus member
A recent challenge in Arkansas left a high school’s newspaper censored and prior review started. With support from other scholastic and professional journalism organizations, the school newspaper has now been allowed to publish.

I thought of a line in my favorite book “To Kill a Mockingbird”recently. It was in the courtroom scene when Atticus Finch says to a witness,“You ran to the house, you ran to the window, you ran inside, you ran to Mayella, you ran for Mr. Tate. Did you in all this running, run for a doctor?” As well as wondering why there was no medical attention, Atticus was probably wondering if the real truth may have been discovered if the doctor had been called.

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Censorship leads to fake news

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Prior-review/censor guideline /policy

Journalists often are considered mirrors on society. As such, journalism should reflect the community in which it is produced. In order to also maintain their watchdog function, journalists must also be able to act as candles that illuminate and challenge a community’s values and preconceptions.

Monitoring the status quo and the powers that be is one way journalists can both reflect and challenge their communities. This journalistic practice helps maintain the free and accurate flow of information.

Additionally, student media should be independent from their school’s public relations arm. The purpose of student media is to report school and community issues and events. Consequently, the purpose of student media is not to protect the image of the school or district.

These roles are premised on the idea that student media can operate in an independent manner.

JEA strongly rejects both prior review and restraint as tools in the education process and agrees with other national journalism education groups that no valid educational justification exists for prior review of scholastic media.

Prior review and prior restraint of student media content by school officials are weapons in the arsenal of censorship. Not only do they limit student learning and application, but they also restrict student critical thinking and analysis.

This would be included in the policy portion.

 

Social media post/question:How does self-censorship impact what students cover?

Stance: Students should create a clear guideline for stemming the tide of self-censorship.

Reasoning/suggestions: Students are often self-censoring important content — especially if they have been censored previously.

When students self-censor topics journalistically ethical and legal to cover, they are in essence forwarding the concept of fake news. If students are afraid to cover topics of importance to them, they are not creating a true open forum for student discussion and are not functioning as a journalist.

Resources:

SPLC Active Voices

Lesson: Censorship=Fake news

Self Censorship links from SPLC
http://www.splc.org/article/2015/02/high-school-students-teachers-confront-student-media-censorship

JEA prior review definition
http://jeasprc.org/jea-board-defines-prior-review/

Sarah Nichol’s blog from 2009

Self-censorship is scariest of all

Posted by JBowen   Oct 30, 2009 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching| 0 comments

All week I’ve heard plans for creepy costume parties, haunted house visits and horror film marathons. But as Halloween weekend approaches, there’s something much scarier on my mind.

It’s scary how many media staffs and their advisers are under fire right now for doing exactly what they set out to do: report on issues of impact and interest to their students. The current situation at Timberland High School in Wentzville, Mo. is just one example of many. Stories of little consequence, such as the homecoming court or club happenings, rarely draw attention. But the ones that matter — the ones that have potential to help students — come under fire at an alarming rate, despite thorough research, credible sources and top-notch student reporting.

It’s scary when kids grapple with these big issues and how to cover them well. But it’s even scarier when they don’t. Good journalism — and the whole part about critical thinking, student leadership and free expression — stops when kids decide to censor themselves.

All too often I hear my kids during staff brainstorming sessions say things like, “People would freak out if we covered that,” or “[Insert administrator names] would give us a really hard time if we did that.” Despite frequent discussion of media law and a dissection of the ed code, I still hear, “We can’t do that, can we?”

In most cases, they can. And in many cases, they should. It’s easy to see why kids might be inclined to shy away from the good stories, the real stories. After all, many advisers share updates in class of programs facing censorship and use these as teachable moments. We read the controversial articles, discuss the situations and follow the stories over an extended period of time. Kids are interested and engage in meaningful discussion, but I realized lately that they might not be taking away the message we think we’re sending. Do our students come away inspired and empowered, or are they afraid of censorship, administrative retaliation or the risk of losing a beloved adviser?

Scary possibilities, to be sure.

We can combat self-censorship with a few simple strategies:

(1) Continue to expose students to outstanding journalism, both from students and from the pros. Read it, discuss it, analyze it. Nothing beats an important story done well.

(2) When students begin to talk themselves out of a sensitive story topic, encourage them to revisit your mission statement and/or editorial policies. Teach students to weigh the options: how many readers might be helped or touched by this story? What’s the potential for good here? How far might this story reach?

(3) Get outside your school bubble. You know your school community, yes, but have you looked at how other student media have covered similar stories? Are others in your city, state, region affected by the same topics? Is there an opportunity to learn from the experience of others? Collaborate?

(4) Point to a wide variety of resources so students have support. When students feel confident in their research and reporting skills, they’re confident tackling bigger stories. Establish a team-oriented staff culture so that students have peers willing to help with research and interviewing. Good student journalists know how much work is involved in getting a story right; they might talk themselves out of tackling the topic because they know a sensitive story often involves extra effort. Again, work together.

(5) Make sure students understand how to utilize expert assistance from the SPLCand feel comfortable doing so. Consider role-playing sample scenarios in class. Encourage student editors to create a plan in the event that a situation arises. It’s like a fire drill — we don’t expect to be in a fire but we practice the drill and know how to call 911 if we need to. Then we’re free to go about our daily lives and focus on what matters.

If staffers have a plan in place, covering a potentially controversial subject doesn’t seem so scary.

Sarah Nichols, MJE

 

 

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What to tell your principal about Prior Review? QT 62

Posted by on Apr 23, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Quick Hits: Student First Amendment Rights

The bad news is that administrators may legally ask to see stories before they are printed or aired, but prior review leaves them in an awkward situation, because of the good news below.

The good news is that they generally cannot ask students to change anything or spike the story. That would be prior restraint, allowed legally only under narrow conditions.*

Prior Review is a bad idea for both students and the school. But how do you convince the administrations?

You have two strong arguments against prior review. The first is a legal argument, the second is a pedagogical one.

First, when administrators review student publications prior to publishing, they and the school district become responsible for its content and policies. These three cases show the protection schools enjoy when they allow student control of student media:

  1. Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit brought against the district failed. The adults were sued because the student leaders of the paper had refused to run two ads. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused the ads. (Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals)
  2. Because the students, not the school district, decided which senior portraits to allow in the Londonderry High School yearbook, the district was protected from successful suit for First Amendment violation when the students rejected a senior portrait with a shotgun. The judge found that it was not the school district that rejected the photo. It was the student yearbook editors. “The state has not, it seems, suppressed Blake’s speech. His fellow students have done so.” (Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) in the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire.) 
  3. Because the students of Roosevelt High School in Seattle practiced strong journalism and controlled the content of their student media, a lower court ruled in favor of the Seattle Public Schools and against slumlords suing the district for libel following an article in The Roosevelt News, “Sisley Slums Cause Controversy: Developers and neighborhood clash over land use.”  The lower court ruled that if what the students write is true, it is not libel, and where the students make the content decisions, the school district is protected from successful suit. (Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011 in the Court of Appeals of Washington (state), Division 1)

Second, when administrators exercise prior review, students lose the opportunity to develop skill crucial to democracy, including the ability to recognize sound journalism and fake news. When students choose the content of their publications to please—or at least “get past”—administrators, they are denied the opportunity to apply what they learn in class about news values, ethics and press law.

In contrast, students who control the content of their publication regularly consider their audience’s right to know and individuals’ right to privacy. They judge the strength and reliability of sources. They strive to make their reporting fair and accurate. They come to cherish their audience’s trust and they admit mistakes, issue corrections and retractions, and live with the consequences. They are prepared to be responsible citizens as intelligent consumers of media.

There is no evidence that prior review by administration improves learning in any way.

 

 

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*In states under the Tinker standard, an administrator could restrain stories that pose a clear and present danger of inciting students to commit crimes on school premises or violate lawful school regulations, or substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school. The administrator could also restrain stories that contain obscenity or slander/libel.

 

In the states that remain under Hazelwood, the administrator would need a “legitimate pedagogical concern.”

 

Resources:

QuickHits So what does Hazelwood actually allow administrators to do?

QuickHits The Perks of Being a Wallflower: How a School District Escaped a Lawsuit by Fostering an Independent Student Press.  Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals

Quickhits More Perks of Being a Wallflower: How two other School District Escaped Lawsuits by Fostering an Independent Student Press. Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) and Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Allowing sources to preview content
is ethically questionable QT12

Posted by on Sep 18, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

The newest reporter on staff chooses to cover the story about the Science Department’s new policy on studying animal life. To do so, she must interview the head about a new policy on studying animal life. It’s fairly controversial because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is strongly opposed to dissection and the new curriculum for advanced biology includes that.

What to do if sources, including the expert, want to see the story ahead of time?

Showing media content to sources is really just another form of prior review — but one with some hidden challenges. Sometimes the source can make it sound like its his or her understood right to review, and an untrained reporter might just agree. Also, the adult often believes the student might “get it wrong” and publish misinformation that could create problems. However, both students and sources should build trust in the reporting process by demonstrating integrity in their information-gathering and fact-checking processes.

 

Guideline:

Sources do not have the right to review materials prior to publication. Allowing sources to preview content at any stage of production raises serious ethical and journalistic practice questions.

Stance:

Showing media content to sources is a topic that may come up unexpectedly. Often a school administrator, teacher or other “adult of power” makes the request, and student reporters are unsure if they can — or should — refuse. This creates confusion and misunderstanding.

Students should not show content to sources because it is another form of prior review with ethical and journalistic challenges. They should be aware such requests are possible and know what to do if they happen.

Reasoning/suggestions:

Showing media content to sources is really just another form of prior review — but one with some hidden challenges. Sometimes the source can make it sound like its his or her understood right to review, and an untrained reporter might just agree. Also, the adult often believes the student might “get it wrong” and publish misinformation that could create problems. However, both students and sources should build trust in the reporting process by demonstrating integrity in their information-gathering and fact-checking processes.

Students may opt to verify quotes by reading them back to sources. If sources indicate quotes are inaccurate, students should check their notes and act accordingly. This should not include changing the original quotes because sources want to revise their statements.

Another unintended consequence of seeing the entire story: If sources see others’ quotes or information in the story, they have an opportunity to refute them before anything is published, giving one source an advantage over the other.

Resources:

Show and print,” American Journalism Review

Ethical Case Study: A lesson on the rules of prior approval of quotes, content
The Essentials of Sourcing, Reuters
Writing and Reporting the News, Carole Rich
Sharing Stories With Sources Before Publication Is Risky, But Can Improve Accuracy, Steve Buttry
Lesson: Crafting the Argument, Journalism Education Association
Lesson: A Lesson on the Rules of Prior Approval of Quotes, Content, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

 

 

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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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