by Nancy Hastings
Hazelwood stories: It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the Hazelwood decision came in…. it seems like only last week when the phone calls poured in from local media and area high schools asking for my opinions on what this would mean and my help to defend student rights from administrators already trying to clamp the voice of criticism.
I always thanked my lucky stars that I worked in a school district and community that supported our student media. While we didn’t always agree, the administration believed in us to act responsibly. In fact, my principal used to tell me that he’d rather answer questions from student journalists than the local media, because at least the students quoted him accurately.
I do think Hazelwood made us better journalists. We still tackled stories that mattered, but we became more conscious of the need to cover all sides of the story as accurately as possible. The students became better critical thinkers as they debated issues and backed up their beliefs. The decision encouraged more open communication as editors scheduled regular meetings with administrators to discuss subjects that mattered to both sides. In fact, they often invited the principal to attend Editorial Board meetings when the staff had concerns they wanted to discuss.
I think Hazelwood in some ways made me a better teacher. I started teaching in the Tinker era when… “students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates.” I could no longer take those rights for granted. I had to fully understand student press law and ethics, so that my students could decipher their rights and responsibilities. These students in turn, used that knowledge to help educate each new young administrator who believed students had no rights to criticize any school decision or activity. As students became more proficient in understanding the pedagogical mission of schools, they became more confident as reporters and writers.
Unfortunately, not all student journalists have been so lucky. Area administrators have confiscated newspapers that criticized a coach, have shut down a publication that called for the school library to be open longer after hours to allow students to research, and set have set up prior review because student journalists criticized school policies. New advisers with little journalism background have become controlled PR tools of their administrations, fearful of covering anything that matters. So many staffs self-censored themselves, knowing someone is watching over their shoulders.
I remember that cold January day as if it were last week. Many journalism programs have thrived on the strength of a responsible student voice. Unfortunately many more have suffered under the misconceptions of the Hazelwood decision.
by Bob Button
Hazelwood stories: The Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood is arguably the worst blow to scholastic journalism in our lifetime – primarily because it struck a hammer in favor of control and against education in America’s schools.
Having grown up in an era when student newspapers were seen as PR tools for the school, when I moved to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for a full-time journalism position, I asked my new principal in our first meeting what the guidelines were for what could and could not be printed. He looked at me and said, “I thought that was why we hired you!” That was in the late ‘60s, just as students were beginning to challenge everything.
What followed was a career supporting students as they explored topics of interest or importance in their lives – even if they were potentially controversial – and encouraging students to cover subjects in depth or take a stance in editorials or columns with a full understanding of the issues involved. That is critical thinking at its best and it promotes leadership. Never did an administrator tell us we could not cover a subject, even if it put the school in a poor light. But with freedom comes responsibility. We made some mistakes, which led to one of the first staff-written editorial policies in the country, putting in writing the student editorial board’s responsibility for serving the newspaper’s readers.
Students cannot learn critical thinking if that thinking is limited arbitrarily. Students cannot learn responsibility or leadership if they have no freedom to make decisions.
Too many principals then and now think they teach responsibility when they exercise control. They do not. They simply relieve students of responsibility. When students have no control, they respond either by acquiescence to the demands of those in power or by challenging the power in some other way. Neither is a desirable outcome.
With the Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood, many principals simply maintained the control they had always exercised, or established control they had relinquished under Tinker. My principal didn’t change a thing. Hazelwood does not mandate control – it permits it – and my principal was more interested in education than in control. But in the 25 years since Hazelwood we have a whole generation of administrators who see control as their first priority, of teachers forced to be concerned first and foremost with test scores, of students who think of school newspapers as an exercise in innocuous comment.
Sure, there are wonderful administrators, great teachers and challenging students fighting the good fight. But Hazelwood promotes none of it.
by Jeff Kocur
The Zac Brown Band recently played to a full house at the Target Center in Minneapolis, and the Star Tribune’s critic gave a scathing review.
Reader comments attached to the story, though, exposed the writer’s dance between his snarky Twitter world and his professional responsibility to the readers.
A reader revealed the writer had tweeted several hours prior to the concert that “I had better start drinking now so I can get in the right mindset to give ZBB a fair review tonight.”
During the concert, he tweeted out things he did not like about the show. The covers, songs that went on too long, comments made by the band, & etc. littered the 20 plus tweets he sent out from the concert.
For me, this crossed a line I wanted to discuss with my kids as they engage more in Twitter as journalists.
by Marina Hendricks, SPRC commissioner
For “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course, John Bowen asked us to draft a position paper on social media as a tool for student journalists. I found it easier to think through the assignment by approaching it as a hypothetical letter from an adviser to students. Here’s the result.
Before we launch our Facebook page and Twitter feed, I’d like you to think about how you will use them in your coverage of the school community.
Keep in mind that our editorial policy applies not only to our print edition and website, but also to our social network platforms. As a result, your Facebook posts and tweets must be accurate, objective and fair. Information you collect from or share via Facebook and Twitter must be checked and verified – with no exceptions. This is especially critical for breaking news. You must get it right, even when it takes time to verify facts. Your audience depends on you for accurate information and trusts you to provide it. You don’t want to jeopardize that trust. Once it’s gone, it may never return. And readers and users will go with it.
Just as important, you must practice transparency. For readers and users, that means letting them know where you obtained information and under what circumstances. For sources, that means telling them how you plan to use information they provide. And as always, refer to the policy for guidance on anonymous sourcing.
Be vigilant about Facebook and Twitter content that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law.
Speaking of promotion, remember that you are in the news business, not public relations. You wouldn’t include rah-rah statements in print or online stories, would you? The same rule applies for social media content.
We’ve talked a lot about the responsibilities associated with being journalists. As tempting as it sometimes is, we don’t use our power of publication to promote personal agendas or settle scores. The instantaneous nature of social networks makes that even more tempting. However, I know you will continue to use the same exceptional judgment you bring to our print and online publications by remembering at all times that you represent (school publication name). I know your posts and tweets will reflect your professionalism as journalists.
Our Facebook page and Twitter feed give us two new ways to reach our school community. Use them to start conversations, seek feedback and provide another window into our newsroom.
Finally, take a look at our editorial policy and see if there’s anything you want to update with respect to our social media platforms.
Good night, and good luck …
Resource: “Online Ethical Considerations,” provided through Social Role of the Mass Media, Kent State University, spring 2011
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?