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Reporting stories student journalists
can best tell

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by John Bowen, MJE
The above statement is a good reminder or our social responsibility to report all aspects of teen issues – those with good, bad and impact – because our audiences  have a right to know.

These are stories student journalists can tell best.

As journalists we do not actively protest, lead walkouts or engage others We examine issues and events with diverse points of view, in context, accurate and complete that might as effectively create change.

We are mirrors to reflect events and candles to illuminate causes and issues that surround us, like the March 14 and March 24 planned protests, marches and discussions initiated by student reactions to the shooting deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Our journalistic leadership should not prevent expression of our personal feelings and views. Our first obligation is to the truth as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in The Elements of Journalism.

“A community that fails to reflect  its community deeply will not succeed,” the authors write in Elements, third edition.”But a newspaper that does not challenge its community’s values and preconceptions will lose respect for failing to provide the honesty and leadership newspapers are expected  to offer.”

In this case and others, student media can best tell that story.

We lead when we channel our insights into reporting so communities – or societies – can make intelligent and informed decisions affecting our democracy.

To assist students as they report events and issues surrounding walkouts and protests, local and national, the SPRC begins a series of blogposts focusing on protest in America, its relevance and why student media should make every effort to report on its deeper issues.

We start our discussion with the following links and will continue March 19.

  • Covering controversy  Controversy is often in the eye of the beholder. The best way to prevent a subject from becoming controversial is to use verifiable information, in context, from reliable sources – truthful, accurate, thorough and complete reporting. Students should be able to show why they used some information and not other. They should be transparent about why their coverage was important.
  • Practice sensitivity in your reporting  How do we, as today’s information consumers and creators, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin to capture something as accurately as possible? How can we overcome our own limits of perception, our biases, our experience and come to an account people will see as reliable. This essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. Controversy is in the eyes of the beholder. Our job is make sure anything controversial is reported thoroughly, accurately and coherently.
  • Respecting privacy and public space important for photographers, too  Student journalists should never invade the privacy of others while accessing information or photos for a story.However. it is their journalistic duty to know what constitutes invasion of privacy or what spaces they are legally allowed to access and what spaces they are not legally allowed to access. Student journalists should check the legal and ethical parameters of public space and the latest recommendations for journalistic activity from the Student Press Law Center.
  • Student Press Law Center online guide and resources for student journalists The new resource page is just one of several major steps SPLC took to ensure student journalists can cover protests, walkouts and the growing gun control discussions freely and fairly. See its news release:
  • Covering walkouts and protests   From the SPLC, this guide provides helpful information student journalists reporting protests and walk-outs.



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Forum status of student media: Quick Tip1

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments



If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Key points/action: In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever for student journalists and their advisers to know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression.

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 first in the series. 

The language of those policies (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

A designated public forum is created when school officials have “by policy or by practice” opened a publication for use by students to engage in their own free expression.

Often the most important question in that analysis is which of two First Amendment standards they have to meet.

  • The Tinker standard (as defined by the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)), which says schools can censor only if their actions are necessary to avoid a material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion of the rights of others. This language may sound vague, but as the courts have interpreted it, the Tinker standard is a very difficult one for school officials to meet and typically requires them to show evidence of physical disruption before their censorship will be allowed.
  • The Hazelwood standard (as defined by the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)), which says schools can censor if their actions are reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns. Although this standard requires school officials to justify every act of censorship as educationally sound, it is a standard that gives school officials more extensive authority to silence or punish student expression.

Stance: Of the three types of forums, open public, limited public and closed, JEA strongly endorses the designated (open) public forum concept.

In the Hazelwood case, the Court said it believed both the policy and practice at Hazelwood East High School reflected school officials’ intent to exercise complete control over the student newspaper’s content. That finding prompted the Court to say a designated public forum did not exist.

Student publications at other schools with different policies and different practices relating to editorial control can be public forums. Where student editors have been given final authority over content decisions in their publications or where a school policy explicitly describes a student publication as a designated public forum, the Tinker standard will still apply.

Reasoning/suggestions: If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Two things are important about the phrasing of this policy statement. First is the use of the words “designated public forum” as opposed to “limited public forum” or other similar language. Although many once believed the two phrases were interchangeable, some recent court decisions have suggested that using the word “limited” opens the door to school censorship as permitted under Hazelwood.

Second, using the phrase “student editors make all content decisions” is in many ways a clearer restatement of the meaning of “designated public forum.” It conveys the intent behind the public forum phrase anyone unfamiliar with the relevant Supreme Court rulings should understand.

To help schools understand what we consider public forums, please note these definitions:

  • Forums by policy: An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice: A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.


When your publication is a public forum and when it is not, Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism

Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee



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More resources for
alternative facts, fake news

Posted by on Jan 24, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

With the events surrounding Inauguration Day comes a new journalistic concept, alternative facts. As we teach our students to be aware of fake news and now alternate facts, check out some additional resources that might lead to lessons and activities that rebuild trust in journalists – and journalism.

Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump’s team has ‘alternative facts.’ Which pretty much says it all
Student journalists especially vulnerable to Trump’s press-as-enemy rhetoric
Don’t let Trump get away with ‘alternative facts’
• What does a news organization optimized for trust look like

And, as a lead-in to JEA’s One Book reading for this this spring, 1984:
George Orwell on ‘alternative facts’

The links take you to our other posts to identify and combat varieties of fake news.:

Censored news is fake news
Addressing issues involved in fake news
Our tasks for the future: Building a Tool Kit of Trust, Integrity

Censored news, including that created by prior-review limited outlets and insistence on alternative “facts,” leads to distortion and misinformation.

That is something we must address through leadership, enlightened publication and community education.






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JEA updates its Adviser Code of Ethics

Posted by on Nov 15, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

sprclogoAt its board of directors meeting in Orlando Nov. 11, JEA updated its Adviser Code of Ethics by adding several new statements and updating several others.

Changes are noted in bold, below:
• Model standards of professional journalistic conduct. to students, administrators and others.
• Empower students to make decisions of style, structure and content by creating a learning atmosphere where students will actively practice critical thinking and decision-making.
• Encourage students to seek divergent points of view and to explore a variety of information sources in their decision-making.
• Support and defend a free, robust and active forum for student expression without prior review or restraint.
• Emphasize the importance of accuracy, balance and clarity in all aspects of news gathering and reporting.
• Show trust in students as they carry out their responsibilities by encouraging and supporting them in a caring, learning environment.
• Remain informed on press rights and responsibilities across media platforms.
• Advise and mentor, rather than act as censor or decision-maker.
• Display professional and personal integrity in situations that might be construed as potential conflicts of interest.
• Support free expression for others in local and larger communities.
Model traits of a life-long learner through continuous professional development in media education along with membership and involvement in professional media organizations.
• Foster cooperation and open communication with administrators and other stakeholders while students exercise their First Amendment rights.
• Encourage journalistically responsible use of social media in schools and educate students, school officials and community to its value. Educate students about the ramifications of its misuse.
• Champion inclusion so that ALL students not only see themselves and their ideas represented, but also see themselves as able to contribute to and to lead student-determined media.


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Careful preparation creates
strong mission statements

Posted by on Sep 29, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



Part 2 of a series  on pieces of the journalism puzzle: Mission Statements

by Candace and John Bowen
A mission statement defines your student media, shows your audience what’s important to you and helps them see why you do what you do. It’s not easy to write an effective one.sprclogo

When JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee set it out write a sample mission statement to share, the 10 of us didn’t realize what a challenge this would be. Sure, it would take some tweaking and some discussions when this many writers work together. But we came to find out it was more than that.

We think you need a mission statement, and we think ours is worth consideration.

The following is the model we finally agreed was best – though not perfect. We knew, for instance, we didn’t want to post a mission statement and have schools everywhere think it’s the only option. Schools are different: the student staffs, the advisers and the audiences have variations that show not one size fits all.

So here is our contribution. We think you need a mission statement, and we think ours is worth consideration. But we also share some points to think about as you write your own from scratch or adapt what we offered you.
• Audience engagement. Think about the importance of getting your audience to think and hopefully to act. Your mission should be to create media to get and keep them involved.
• Journalistic responsibility. Point out the basis of solid journalism you want as the very heart of your media: truth, integrity, completeness and accuracy.
• Additional reporting basics. Make sure your audience knows it can trust you because you also offer context to put reporting in perspective, verification that shows you double-checked, coherence that ensures it makes sense and presents all relevant information.
• Ethical reporting and editing. To complete the reporting process, present your work ethically and to professional standards for your audiences.
Student-determined content. It should make a difference to your audience that students are in charge and decide all content for your student media. It definitely makes a difference to courts, too.
• Diversity of ideas and representation. It’s not just one clique that runs your student media. All voices contribute ideas and have representation in your media.
• Platform consistency. It’s not a newspaper policy and a separate Web, yearbook or TV station policy. As all media providers realize they are connected and each telling a story in the best way possible, it’s important the school’s media share the same policies and ethical approaches.
• School mission statement connection. It shouldn’t be surprising that school mission statements often mention the same points student media do: building thinking citizens, preparing students for democracy, etc. Tie parts of your media mission statement to those as well.

Our model, then, would look like this:

_____________ (school name) student media provide complete and accurate coverage, journalistically responsible, ethically gathered, edited and reported. Student-determined expression promotes democratic citizenship through public engagement diverse in both ideas and representation. 

Part 1: Build a strong foundation
Part 3: Points to avoid in mission statements
Part 4: Fitting the pieces into a strong Foundation


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