PART 2 OF a 3-PART SERIES
An experienced Ohio newspaper adviser teams up with a former student — who now has a law degree — to teach the staff about using public records. An alleged rape on campus requires student editors to stand their ground accessing information about it. Once they have details about the incident, they have to decide just what they should – or maybe should not – use. It’s a tale that has all the makings of excellent reporting.
An unexpected faculty meeting 10th period in mid-September. Police in the halls earlier in the day. All the students at Shaker Heights High School were talking, but the journalism students were more than curious.
“When I came back (to the journalism room) after the meeting, I told them I was forbidden to talk about it,” adviser Natalie Sekicky said. “Yes, there was an incident. Yes, something happened. But we have to be sensitive.”
Part of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s Constitution Day lessons and activity package. The whole package can be seen here: http://jeasprc.org/constitution-day-2013-teaching-materials-and-lessons/
by Jeff Kocur
Objective: For students to explore ethical situations using the TUFF formula as described in the lesson. This unit focuses possible discussion points for inclusion in editorial policies.
Primary Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
Secondary Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1d
Introduction: Start the class with the following hypothetical situation: “A student on staff has overheard his father (a police officer in a neighboring town) talking about pulling over your high school principal for suspicion of drunk driving. The staff member heard his father report that the principal was barely over the legal limit. And then would ask the following questions:
- How do you verify the accuracy of this? Is the father a reliable source? Where else could you get the info you needed?
- Does the community deserve to know if one of their leaders engages in this behavior?
- How much does the school board know about this?
- Does the fact that the infraction was just over the legal limit influence your decision?
- Whose interest should prevail in this instance?
- How do you negotiate what is fair here?
Don’t self-censor. Learn how to approach controversial stories with confidence and professionalism. #25HZLWD
Sometimes, being a student journalist means going head-to-head with others over stories that make people—even those on your staff—uncomfortable. Often, students are incredibly thoughtful and sensitive toward what stories might create tension or even generate real scrutiny of a person or process in their school.
Feeling wary about a story, and about what could happen if you publish that story, is a completely normal reaction. But it’s important to remember that having caution and sensitivity towards a subject doesn’t mean you should drop the story completely. Professional news media cover sensitive topics on a daily basis, and figuring out how to do this is one of the most important lessons student journalists can learn.
When you are faced with covering a difficult or sensitive story, take the time to consider all your options, discuss the ethical implications and ask important legal questions. You CAN approach controversial stories with professionalism, but it takes time and effort, and willingness on your part not to self-censor the tough stuff.
JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission (SPRC) has set up a uniform process to help advisers – and students – who seek advice about handing censorship or other legal issues.
The Panic Button.
The Panic Button is an online reporting tool to collect information from those experiencing some type of censorship.
When an adviser or student uses the Panic Button to submit information, designated SPRC members receive notification. This sets in motion a series of responses following a checklist system. In no way will the commission direct the fight against censorship, but each person has a different course of action in supporting the adviser and students while offering suggestions and resources specific to that situation.
As JEA vice president and Commission member Sarah Nichols reported in an email to state and regional directors and board members, “We [a Press Rights Commission subcommittee that developed the process] focused on four key goals:
• A consistent method of reporting
• A process that works quickly
• A tool for collecting data
• A way to avoid overlap and prevent harm.”
Here’s who gets involved and how:
When the adviser hits the panic button and files a report, he or she instantly gets a check sheet with steps to take – like “Take a deep breath — you have support” and “Keep a paper trail.” A student can hit the Panic Button, too, and the check sheet he or she gets is a little different, including, “Contact the Student Press Law Center,” and “Get parental and other student support.” That request for assistance goes to six SPRC members, who quickly respond.
Those looking for guidelines to prepare state groups to pass free expression legislation now have a draft document package to work with.
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission has completed a draft version of its Blueprint for Success: Promoting Scholastic Right Rights Legislation, and makes that information available in time for the JEA/NSPA Seattle convention.
The commission welcomes comments and suggestions before it publishes a final version in the coming months.
The Blueprint can be downloaded here or from a link in the right-hand menu under state legislation on this site.
Several additional legal and ethical sites are also worth noting:
• Back issues of the Student Press Reports. Found at Issuu, this site gives everyone access to information from The SPLC Reports, the Student Press Law Center’s magazine, since it started. Well worth time to just browse or look for information to support local reporting.
• The Panic Button. Found here, The Panic Button links you or your students directly to assistance and information about handling an issue of censorship. Members of the Scholastic Press Rights Commission and 45Words students will respond quickly, offering suggestions and providing information as your students and others plan a strategy to handle censorship.
• The forum map. This map, a project of The Center for Scholastic Journalism, is a list of schools the Center has determined to be open forums for student expression, either by policy or practice. The purpose of the map is to enable journalism programs seeking to become open forums to have models and contacts to assist in the quest.
• Application to be on the forum map. This writable PDF is your way to apply to have your school recognized as an forum by policy or practice.
• Certification map. This map shows requirements for teaching journalism in 49 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and links to each state’s department of education.