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The role of the adviser is multifold,
but ethically, practically not a doer QT20

Posted by on Sep 3, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer. We like the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as guides for advisers.

That role means letting students make all decisions including content, context and grammar.

One way advisers can help this process is by having a staff manual inclusive of the student media mission statement, policies, guidelines and procedures. The mission statement outlines the overall aim of the student media. Policies are either the board-level or media-level and state the functionality of the student press. Guidelines are the ethical components the student media will work with. The procedures and resources for students to learn how to do something



As per the board-level or media-level policy, students should be empowered to make all content decisions for student media.

Key points/action

If the term “student media” is to have meaning, then the role of the adviser should be just what it says: advise.

The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer.

That role means letting students make all decisions including content, context and grammar.


Students learn best when they are empowered to make their own decisions with support from the adviser on the sideline. A clear understanding of the adviser’s role helps students take ownership of their work and the program overall.

To help teachers and advisers understand this role more completely, we recommend the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as a starting point. We also recommend inclusion of a statement on the role of the adviser by noting the adviser code and a statement that students make all decisions of content. Advisers should advise and ask questions to help the students examine the issue from multiple perspectives and concerns.

One way advisers can help this process is by having a staff manual inclusive of the student media mission statement, policies, guidelines and procedures. The mission statement outlines the overall aim of the student media. Policies are either the board-level or media-level and state the functionality of the student press. Guidelines are the ethical components the student media will work with. The procedures and resources for students to learn how to do something.

If students know (or can look at what to do) what By already establishing these prior to a problem happening, it’s easier to see what to do when something does happen. (And, it will.) These policies, guidelines and procedures should function as a reference and be complete (preferably) prior to the problem happening. This helps the students (and adviser) work through issues if they do happen.
ResourcesAdviser responsibility

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

Teaching grit for citizenship — why we must empower, not shield students (related SPRC blog).


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‘No publication’ guidelines

Posted by on Jul 7, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Foundations_mainEthical guidelines
Know your rights and responsibilities in terms of capturing images on school property and at school events. “Do not publish” contracts apply to schools, not student media.

At the very least, get a copy of the list of students whose parents request photos not to be used and try to avoid taking their pictures. An alternative would be to communicate with parents about what such a ban means to student media.

Staff manual process
Student journalists should create a list of discussion points to share with parents who indicate their students are on a school’s no publication list.

• Students appearing in public activities and public places have little expectation of privacy
• Students whose images are available to commercial media should also be available to student media
• Students who are omitted from student media without justifiable reason could lose an important record of their lives

NOTE: FERPA does not apply in this situation although schools might argue it does, which could create a censorship situation. At that point it becomes a censorship issue. Try to persuade the school it is not doing the right thing.

NOTE: If your publication is prior reviewed, it is possible FERPA could apply because students do not make the final decisions.


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Student decision-making: Learning to act ethically

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Jeff Kocur
The student government at my school made a questionable attempt to spice up our March Madness spirit week, and the assistant principal let it happen.

He is new this year, and it was a refreshing presence of ethics from the assistant principal’s office, which has previously ruled with a pretty heavy hand.

I saw the whole thing happen as I waited to meet with the student government adviser.

The students wanted to designate a spirit day called “Bros versus Hipsters.”

Our school is quite diverse and the assistant principal, himself a black man, was sitting down with the student government students to discuss what kind of message might be portrayed when students dress up like a bro. In our school and in our community, a bro would be closely affiliated with inner city culture, and we had a history of other incidents with sports teams full of white boys dressing up with do rags and such in the name of spirit.

The assistant principal listened, presented his concerns, and then allowed the students to make the decision about changing the spirit day.

The decision was unanimous to keep the spirit day, and they hung signs up within a day to advertise for the next week’s spirit.

It didn’t take more than a day for the student government members to remove the bro designation after they received some negative feedback including a homemade sign taped to their spirit day signs that read “just because we are black does not make us bros” or something to that extent

I spoke with the assistant principal, a man I am still getting to know. I told him how much I appreciated his process with the students, and his response was encouraging.

He explained his principle is that he can’t come into an environment and tell kids how to act ethically because then they aren’t practicing ethics; they are just following orders. They aren’t growing as people if they aren’t allowed to do some questionable things and perhaps suffer the consequences of those actions.

Student leaders have not been so empowered before at my school, especially when it comes to the newspaper, so I am encouraged we have someone who is speaking these truths.


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Guidelines, recommendations for advisers facing prior review

Posted by on Sep 4, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Based on an increase in the number of of prior review incidents and administrative attacks on advisers, we are reposting this information.

At the spring 2010 Portland JEA/NSPA convention, JEA’s board passed a definition of prior review and prior restraint. The SPLC also recently endorsed the statement.

At the time, the Press Right Commission was directed to design a recommended process and guidelines on how advisers might handle prior review if faced with it. Below you will find those guidelines and process along with links to supporting philosophy and resources. We welcome your input.

While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can best support philosophically, JEA reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as a tool in the educational process. With that belief, we feel an obligation to help advisers faced with this situation.

Statements to accompany JEA’s definitions of prior review and restraint:

As journalism teachers, we know our students learn more when they make publication choices and that prior review or restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism.

As journalism teachers, we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely.

As journalism teachers, we know democracy depends on students understanding all voices have a right to be heard and knowing they have a voice in their school and community.

Thus, to help students achieve work that is up to professional standards, journalism educators should consider the following process:

• Encourage transparency about who determines the content of a student publication by alerting readers and viewers when student media are subject to prior review and restraint;

• Advocate the educational benefits of student press freedom if student media are subject to prior review or restraint;

• Provide students with access to sources of professional advice outside the school for issues they need to address;

• Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, we build trust in the learning process and the theories on which it is based;

• Encourage students to seek multiple points of view and to explore a variety of credible sources in their reporting and decision-making;

• Coach instead of make requirements or demands thus modeling the value of the learning process and demonstrating the trust we place in our educational system;

• Empower students to know the difference between sound and unsound journalism and how to counsel their peers about potential dangers;

• Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, we increase dialogue and help ensure civic and journalistic responsibility;

• Use peer editing to encourage student interaction, analysis and problem solving;

• Instruct students about civic engagement and journalism’s role in maintaining and protecting our democratic heritage;

• Showcase student media where the dissemination of information is unfiltered by prior review and restraint so the school’s various communities receive accurate, truthful and complete information.

Recommended process if facing prior review, restraint

If, after employing the above techniques, student journalists still object to changes an adviser discusses, the following describes a process to handle potential disagreement:

1. Adviser and students disagree about content for publication.

2. Adviser and students discuss all angles of the disagreement; they try to find common ground.

3. The adviser and students decide if the disagreement is based on an ethical issue or a legal one.

4. If violations of libel, obscenity, unwarranted invasion of privacy, copyright infringement or material disruption of the school process are likely at stake, the adviser urges students to get advice of the Student Press Law Center or reliable legal resource. Not just any school lawyer or administrator will do. The resource, which could include non-live information, must be reputable for scholastic media. The phrase “unprotected speech” might not be enough because Hazelwood so muddied the concept.

5. If the disagreement is not over a legal consideration, the adviser urges students to consider the “red light” or similar questions raised by The Poynter Institute to see how various stakeholders might react if the material is published. Students see and consider the possible outcomes of publication and discuss with the adviser ramifications of their actions.

6. Adviser and students continue to discuss and explore alternative approaches until they reach a point of no possible agreement.

7. This process fulfills the adviser’s commitment to advise, not to make or require decisions, and to be cognizant of his/her responsibilities to school and students.

The Journalism Education Association reiterates its position that prior review and prior restraint violate its Adviser Code of Ethics and educational philosophy.

Additional links and resources:

• 10 Tips for Covering Controversial Subjects from the press rights commission website
Just this once
JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics from the commission blog. Scroll to the bottom
Questions to ask those who would prior review
JEA’s statement on prior review from the JEA website

Results of a Master’s study on prior review and publication awards from the commission’s website
Resources from the press rights commission on developing professional standards from press rights website
NSPA Model Code of Ethics for student journalists from NSPA’s website


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What student journalists learn is essential career training

Posted by on Aug 10, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

By Fern Valentine, MJE

Working on a publications staff, led by trained student editors, clearly prepares students for future careers, not just a journalism career, but any career.   Employers say over and over they want to employ people with the skills students clearly learn on publications staffs.

School districts across the country are cutting journalism programs from their curriculum.  They don’t realize the enhanced learning opportunity they provide.

Other districts restrict those learning opportunities because they are afraid to let students practice some of the skills employers say they want like ethics, social responsibility, self direction and leadership.  Ironically, that restriction not only inhibits learning, it opens the district to greater liability.

In some states, advisers fight to retain their programs when school districts seem to emphasize only classes that “teach to the test.” Advisers need to stress that along side the obvious writing skills, publications offer unique opportunities to learn lifelong skills to help their students succeed no matter what career path they follow.

A 2006 national study provides real evidence of this correlation.

In “Are They Really Ready to Work?” employers listed clearly on page nine the applied skills they want in new entrants to the 21st Century U.S. workforce, and 100 percent of them are integral parts of a student-run publications program.

They define “applied skills” as those skills that enable new entrants –recently hired graduates from high school, two-year colleges or technical schools and four-years colleges– to use the basic knowledge acquired in school to perform in the workplace.

See for the full 64 page report compiled by four organizations jointly surveying over 400 employers across the United States.

The study’s  findings indicate applied skills on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics.  They say that while basic skills are still fundamental to any worker’s ability to do the job, applied skills are “very important” to succeed in the workplace.

Among the most important skills cited by employers were Oral and Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Professional/Work Ethic, and Critical Thinking/Problem Solving.

Sounds like a great journalism curriculum to me.

Other necessary skills listed were: Information Technology Application, Diversity, Leadership, Lifelong Learning/ Self Direction, Creativity/Innovation, and Ethics/ Social Responsibility.

These skills are clearly developed and strengthened in the publications classroom where student editors lead the staff.

By working as a team producing school publications, students learn practical lessons in communication and in civic responsibility.   They write for an audience of their peers instead of for their teachers.  They research by interview rather than just by internet searches, developing people skills not taught in other classes.  They develop critical thinking skills, learn to meet deadlines,  and work within a budget as part of a team.

Presenting their work in a graphically attractive manner is another unique skill practicing the very technology employers want and need.

Even more importantly, students learn first hand the civic lessons our forefathers intended when they built a free press into our democracy.

Project-based learning provided by working on a publications staff clearly prepares students for the working world. These skills are enhanced when the students themselves solve the problems and take responsibility for what they publish.  The more involved they are, the more they learn.

Advisers need to stress that students learn by doing and may need to call on former students, now successful in their chosen careers, to write administrators and school board members about the importance of the unique skills they learned by working on a student-run publications staff.

Only a few members of publications staffs will seek journalistic careers, but they will all be more informed consumers of the media and understand its essential role in a democracy.

When students are allowed to work responsibly as a team with the freedom to make creative and innovative choices, they learn and practice all the applied skills employers in all fields seek in their work force.

Districts need to recognize and encourage open forum publication programs not restrict or eliminate them.   Advisers need to continue to make administrators and school boards aware of the unique learning opportunities a student-run publication can provide.

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