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.
JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission has a range of information and activities to gain assistance and information for those needing assistance with legal and ethical issues
For legal assistance
• Consider pushing our Panic Button. That action and completion of couple informational questions will alert members of the commission to your situation and they will contact you as soon as possible. They might offer help, they might direct you to information on the commission site or work to put you in touch with additional help.
• Check out our Foundations materials.
• Investigate our wealth of information on Hazelwood, a Teacher’s Kit for Curing Hazelwood and that of the SPLC, with its Cure Hazelwood materials.
• We also have a thorough list of court decisions affecting student expression here.
• Of course, the most reliable and most official resource is the Student Press Law Center. Contact it for specific legal advice and information.
For ethical assistance
The commission offers a range of materials, including:
• Ethical guidelines for online media. This package includes a link to the Social Media Toolkit, a set of lessons and activities to help you move online ethically. It also contains JEA’s guidelines for online media.
• Ethical yearbook guidelines. Ethical issues facing yearbooks often are neglected. This material from some of the nation’s leading yearbook advisers should offer assistance.
• Ethical guidelines for visual reporting. The material provides support for those visual reporting questions that can cause issues with new – and experienced – staffs.
In short, assistance is available. Just be sure to ask.
Our next blog will focus on new information and materials.
Mary Beth Tinker addresses student and advisers at the Ohio Scholastic Media Association awards banquet April 5. (photo by Melinda Yoho)
Individuals and groups still have one day to help ensure The Tinker Tour: The Power of an Armband happens next fall. The “Tinker Tour” is a bus trip across the country to promote youth voices, free speech and a free press.
The tour’s goal, according to Mary Beth Tinker, tour organizer and plaintiff in the landmark Tinker v DesMoines U. S. Supreme Court decision, is to “ bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through my story and those of other young people.”
Every journalism student in the country has a real stake in seeing this tour happen, even to the point of bring it to their schools or home towns.
Tinker and co-organizer Mike Hiestand, who assisted countless media students and advisers as a consulting attorney for the Student Press Law Center, hope to start the tour on Constitution Day next fall and spend three to six months touring, depending on funding.
Pledging your financial support within the next 31 days will enable your funds to be matched by StartSomeGood, a crowdsourcing fundraiser.
Find out about the Tinker Tour here.
To donate to the Tinker Tour, go here.
As Mary Beth says in her appeal for support, “I made a difference with a simple, black armband. Can you imagine what a 13-year-old could do today with all of the extraordinary speech tools available?”
Join her and the others who believe in student expression as a tool for civic engagement in supporting the Tinker Tour.
The Journalism Education Association today reaffirmed its opposition to prior review, prior restraint and their use under the guidelines established in the Hazelwood decision.
JEA’s board of directors unanimously took this stand as it voted to endorse a resolution by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication that said, in part, “the Hazelwood level of control over student journalistic speech is clearly incompatible with the effective teaching of journalistic skills, values and practices, and that institutions of secondary and postsecondary education should forswear reliance on Hazelwood as a source of authority for the governance of student and educator expression.”
JEA’s resolution differed slightly from the AEJMC model as it focused more directly on scholastic journalism.
“This resolution is important for two reasons,” JEA president Mark Newton said. “Anytime we can partner with our college colleagues in AEJMC it shows incredible solidarity. And, most importantly, as the leading scholastic journalism education group, we must stand tall and scream at injustice. Make no mistake the Hazelwood Supreme Court decision and its subsequent interpretations are an injustice to education, students, advisers and the First Amendment.”
The JEA resolution states, in part: “The Journalism Education Association (JEA) joins with the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in stating that no legitimate pedagogical purpose is served by the censorship of student journalism on the grounds that it reflects unflatteringly on school policies and programs, that it candidly discusses sensitive social and political issues, or that it voices opinions challenging to majority views on matters of public concern. The censorship of such speech, or the punishment of media advisers based on that speech, is detrimental to effective learning and teaching, and it cannot be justified by reference to “pedagogical concerns.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said, “Because Hazelwood requires schools to present a justification for censorship that is “’legitimate’ and is based on “pedagogical” concerns, the consensus of the nation’s journalism professors as to what constitutes a legitimate educational reason for censorship should carry persuasive value with judges.”
In a second resolution, also passed unanimously, JEA endorsed an Illinois Journalism Education Association resolution had three major points:
• that the Illinois Journalism Education Association urges school district and school administrators to preserve, enhance and support independent student media; and
• the Illinois Journalism Education Association supports and defends media advisers and strongly urges the end of random reassignment or removal of advisers without due cause, and
• the Illinois Journalism Education Association applauds and staunchly defends the efforts of journalism educators for providing students the skills and education to produce free, responsible and independent student media.
“In any way possible,” Newton said, “JEA has an obligation to support advisers whose jobs and livelihoods are targeted for advocating and supporting student freedom of expression. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to have such a resolution like the one IJEA has written. However, it’s quite apparent that we have a lot of work to do to not only raise awareness, but take one further step to making sure advisers know that we support them, their students and their programs.”
JEA’s Hazelwood resolution can be downloaded here. The Illinois resolution here. The AEJMC resolution here.
JEA’s press rights commission will announce the next step in the resolution process within a couple of days.