PART 1 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.
Journalism teacher Natalie Sekicky admits she’s lucky. Anyone with a full teaching load and student media to advise can usually only dream about being able to put staffers in teams and work with them as they investigate complicated, in-depth stories.
But then Sekicky’s former editor-in-chief Emily Grannis, a college journalism major, started giving “quick lessons” about record requests to the J1 classes while she was home on breaks. When she entered a nearby law school, she said she was able to work “more formally” with the Shaker Heights students.
Some current story ideas and resources worth checking out:
• The Society of Professional Journalists dedicates its Fall issue of its journal, Quill, to Freedom of Information. This year’s FOI issue can be accessed for free at: Fall 2013 FOI issue of Quill
• A New York Times article on schools watching student use of the Internet outside school:
• How night you be able to localize (or would you want to) this policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Teaching Journalism Ethics: a resource for scholastic media advisers: This set of lessons and activities about teaching ethical decision-making is by Maggie Cogar as part of her master’s degree.
• Check out the new, online version of The Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism from Quill and Scroll.
• Ethics, a compilation of resources from SchoolJournalism.org.
• A new blog from Poynter, The Ethics Blog, is outlined in this Poynter article.
• A story to localize: what is bullying? Is it the newest way to get around Tinker?
by Mark Goodman
Journalism education, at both the high school and college level, is facing some real challenges. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton weighs in on many of them, including the importance of defending press freedom for students, in his new ebook, Searchlights and Sunglasses (www.searchlightsandsunglasses.org). This free book, available on the web or in several e-reader formats, includes a learning layer with suggested questions and activities designed specifically for the high school journalism classroom.
Check out my thoughts about some of the strengths of this ebook as a teaching tool on the Knight Foundation’s blog:
Testimonials from students involved in scholastic media:
• Jenna Spoont: I am a journalist because I can reach out to those around me and inform them about problems in society. In December 2012, I wrote a story called “World Wide Watch” about the dangers of sexting. I researched statistics, interviewed students and national experts and spoke with the executive director of the Student Press Law Center to create an accurate, educational article. I wrote the article because if I could change just one teenager’s decision of sending inappropriate images, then I would feel rewarded for serving my community. It is because of journalism that I have grown to be ambitious and driven. I served as one of 10 Student Partners for 45Words, an organization that supports and promotes the First Amendment, the document that is at the core of what journalism stands for. I am a journalist, and I am passionate. Jenna Spoont, journalism major at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., class of 2013 Conestoga HS, Wayne, Pa., Quill and Scroll Gallup Scholarship recipient and JEA Student Journalist of the Year.
• Shai Nielson: “In journalism, I was taught what my rights and freedoms are as a writer — things like my freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I was taught how to ask questions and how to get answers. As a journalist, I learned what my privileges and responsibilities are as a person: to use my freedoms to tell the stories that need to be told, truthfully and without bias. I learned how to use the answers I got. And so while journalism class taught me how to be a journalist, being a journalist taught me how to be a better talker, a better listener and a better person.” Shai Nielson – Whitney High School (CA) Journalism editor, Class of 2013 and now UC Davis.
• Sequan Gatlin: Strengthening my communication abilities has not only shown me how to speak and be heard, but also how to listen and be taught. This has helped me to make better communities with my peers, instructors and advisers. Being connected means having resources, information and mentors. Connections through my high school journalism adviser gave me the information and resources that I needed to get here today, an incoming freshman at Iowa State University. Sequan Gatlin, journalism and biology major, class of 2013, Davenport Central High School, Davenport, Iowa, Quill and Scroll Richard P. Johns Scholarship recipient.
by Stan Zoller
One of the interesting things about starting a school year is to find out why students are taking “J-1” – Introduction to Journalism. The answers, to no surprise, run the gamut.
• “Because my friend did.”
• “Because my parents made me.”
• “Because I like to write.”
• “Because I’m interested in journalism.”
First in a series of Wednesday blogs
The post on FOIA is the first in a series of blogs that will run each Wednesday. Topics discussed, in order, will include FOIA, news literacy, journalism education, positive relationships with administrators, prior review, Making a Difference and private school journalism. We hope you will enjoy them. If you have other topics you feel we should address, please let us know.
Bravo. However, whether a student has friends in the class, persuasive parents or (fortunately) have an interest in journalism, one thing that students need to know, and it is incumbent on journalism educators to emphasize, is that journalists can make a difference. Even scholastic journalists.
The motto of the Chicago Headline Club, the Chicago chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is “Protecting the public’s right to know,” and its message is not limited to professional journalists. Its message is meant for student journalists whether in college or high school.
While journalism educators stress the Common Core and awards to their administrators, what’s paramount is that students understand their role as journalists, not just “student journalists.” I’ve heard from more than one adviser that they’re changing their newspaper to a news magazine because they’re not reporting news.
Then something has gone amuck. While their publications may not feature “breaking news” more and more newspapers are being sought out for their work as watch dogs and are, more than more are “protecting the public’s right to know.”
So what do students, and perhaps journalism educators, need to know? That despite roadblocks that some administrators will put up to protect their own personal goals or initiatives, information is readily available to student journalists – just as it to all journalists.
The Freedom of Information Act is not limited to professional journalists. Your student are afforded the same rights. Using the FOIA may seem tricky, but it is a fairly simple process. The Student Press Law Center makes the process simple. All you need to do is go to SPLC FOIA Instructions.
Keep in mind you should be as specific as possible. Do not, for example, say you want to review the budget for 2013. Narrow your focus. If you are interested in an athletic team’s budget, indicate that you want travel expenditures for the Central High School football team from Aug. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013.
Remember too that you can use the FOIA to obtain information from other agencies. Nearly all public records are accessible by the FOI. This includes police reports, school board information, birth records, divorce information and property transfers to name a few. There may be some limitations as to what some agencies may release. For example, police departments may not release reports involving domestic disputes, sexual assaults or minors. If there’s a dispute, you can refile your FOIA request, or if need be, state offices will review your FOIA. In Illinois for example, the Attorney General’s office has procedures to for FOIA reviews.
It is a common practice for names and addresses to be redacted (crossed out) to protect non FOIAed individuals. That’s because they may be outside the request of your FOIA request.
In many cases, an organization has a limited time in which to respond. In Illinois, an organization must respond by email or letter within five days.
Once the information is received, you and your students need to evaluate it and see how it will be used, which will be addressed in my next blog.
In the meantime, check your state guidelines for using the FOIA and include it in your lesson plans.
It may not be a popular action to take with your administration, but in addition to expectations of journalism mirroring the Common Core and 21st Century Learning standards, administrators, journalism educators and student journalists need to understand a primary, perhaps the primary role of the media today is, in fact, “protecting the public’s right to know.”
About the blog: In addition to the 5 Ws and H, journalists need to understand where and how to find information. This repeating blog focus will address techniques, issues and examples of accessing public records using Freedom of Information and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
About Stan Zoller: Stan Zoller, MJE has been a journalism educator for 15 years. Before that he worked as a journalist and media relations professional. He is Vice President of Freedom of Information for the Chicago Headline Club, the nation’s largest local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He was a DJNF Special Recognition Adviser in 2010 and Distinguished Adviser in 2011. He is a member of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission and the Multicultural Commission.