Students and friends of student media in Washington’s Puyallup school district are ready to take the next step in their fight against prior review since a jury declared they had not invaded students’ privacy and the school had no liability in a story about oral sex.
Their next fight will be in the court of public opinion.
Student journalists in the three schools have set up a Facebook site in preparation for an organizational meeting May 3 to urge local schools to drop prior review from Puyallup publication policies. The site has 300 plus friends.
They also have a Twitter site.
They are psyched and have T-shirts, buttons and flyers.
They have talked to Henry Rome, 2009 JEA Journalist of the Year who, with other students in his community started a website to convince his school not to implement prior review.
The Friends of the Spoke won. The Conestoga High students also presented a session at the Portland JEA/NSPA convention about how others could duplicate their feat. Rome also addressed the convention about their fight. Their website also has information on the resources they used in an effort to change the board’s views.
Now, the Puyallup students will try to do the same.
Check out their website. Join their cause. Consider such action if you face prior review.
Prior review – which leads only to prior restraint –has no educational value. Help end it in Puyallup’s schools.
Friends of the Spoke is an amazing resource.
The students launched it as an informational site about the proposed policy changes. They interviewed and posted that information. They sought community letters to the board in support of the Spoke.
And others can use it, as well as some of the tactics mentioned earlier to model their own approaches.
Go there and you will find:
• Information about student and publication awards.
• History of proposed changes to Spoke policies and links to coverage.
• Special reports containing sensitive and important stories students felt caused the drive to change policies.
• Contact and background information for the Spoke and student journalists.
There is also a link to an updated Spoke site, a blog, where students wrote the site was re-designed to recognize their new role. “After the district changed its proposal that would have led to censorship of the Spoke, the organization is now focused on defend the The Spoke by keeping the community informed of the latest news at the papers, and making our resources available to student journalists nationwide who are facing censorship.”
Even after winning the fight, the students continue their vigilance.
For those facing censoring, the decision to fight might not be an easy one. But it has to do done.
It has been done before – and succeeded.
As has been said, the price of liberty calls for eternal vigilance. There is no lesser way.
As Henry Rome said, the fight is long and the future is important.
Even though a fight against censorship is rooted in emotion, that emotion cannot direct the fight, 2009 JEA High School Journalist of the Year Henry Rome said.
Neither should the adviser.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the adviser’s role is to prepare students ahead of time why press freedoms are important and reinforce it at every opportunity.
“The adviser can’t be the public face of a censorship case,” he said, “because at the end of the day, she must maintain her loyalty to the school.”
Behind the scenes, though, the adviser can – and should – educate administrators about why censorship is a bad strategy as practical management.
“It breeds greater disrespect for authority,” LoMonte said. “It tarnishes the image of the school much more than letting a negative story run uncensored. The adviser can, and should, find ways to call the principal’s and community’s attention to the positive things journalism does.”
But waging the fight is a student responsibility, LoMonte said and the student editors here did everything right.
“First and foremost,” he said, “their journalism was unassailable. Unfortunately, students are held to standards that often are higher than those of the top professional media entities, so that a misspelled word or a correction is enough for a school to pretextually censor their work. This work was bulletproof.”
Second, he said, students cannot, although it is an emotional fight students should not run around shouting “First Amendment.”
“That argument carries no weight with schools and very little weight with the public at large,” LoMonte said. “You must make the argument about the practical effects of attempting to censor student journalism. Seth and Henry convincingly made the case that, if the proposed prior-review policies were enacted, they would have felt fearful of pursuing the award-winning stories that had brought so much credit to the district.”
LoMonte said the number one recommendation to students is to build alliances before they are needed. Those alliances could include a media alumni association, a parent booster club, contacts with the local media. He also said join scholastic media organizations and enter as many competitions as possible. Send all contacts copies of student media.
“You need to anticipate the people arguing in favor of censorship,” LoMonte said, “will argue myths and misperceptions, not facts.”
How to counter that:
• Go into conversations asking questions with making arguments.”For instance,” LoMonte said, “when you get the argument prior review is necessary to avid the school being sued for libel, you could argue back. But it might be more effective to ask questions.”
• Talk about the strengths of the journalism program and how students have learned, and how others recognize this learning through awards and accolades.
• Bring the censorship into the public arena
Spoke students did all those things.
“They used the political process expertly by drawing on alliances with the professional media, parents, and the alumni community, to the point that they managed to put censorship of The Spoke on the radar as a contested school board campaign issue,” LoMonte said. “Just as importantly, they stayed on top of every move their school board made. Too often, harshly punitive policies are sneaked past the students and then are nearly impossible to reverse. These students vigilantly read every draft and attended every committee meeting, developing credibility that allowed them to speak to the school board with authority.”
In short, Rome said, Spoke students worked on a three-prong approach: engaging the district in conversations, reaching out to the community and working with local and national media to explain their story.
Next: Starting the new year off right
Let’s start the new year with with some positive thoughts. A model of sorts should your and your students ever face the prospect of prior review or censorship. Some advice to heed from students who faced it.
In this series of blogs, we will outline concepts other student journalists and advisers can consider if they, too, face such a fight.
Henry Rome, JEA’s 2009 High School Journalist of the Year, and Seth Zweifler, current EIC of the Spoke of Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania fought back last year when administrators threatened prior review because of articles the staff had published during the year. Their fight can be documented on the students’ site, in Stoganews.com coverage and through the SPLC.
What helped them fight through this, Rome said, was knowing they were right and working with others who supported them, and looking to the future.
“In the end,” Rome said, “the younger reporters and editors I have gotten to know so well deserve the same opportunities I’ve had to write and report. That is simply the bottom line. Student journalists deserve to be able to spend months upon months investigating stories and controversial issues. Student journalists deserve to learn how to manage a large group of people toward a common goal. Student journalists deserve the opportunity to serve their school. Indeed, they deserve the opportunity to serve their democracy.”
One thing Rome stressed was that the community reminded them of a fundamental point: The community deserves to be informed and censorship or review would compromise that information.
“The Spoke is not a public relations tool of the school district, and the community has a tremendous respect for our role in tackling difficult issues,” Rome said. “In the end, we realized that we were not just fighting to allow future staffs to write and report. We were fighting for the right of the community to be informed. And it is only through an informed populous that you can have a true democracy.”
To help maintain this flow of information and to keep your efforts in fighting for press freedom, Rome stressed the importance of the Web site, but also the following:
• First, know why you are fighting. Talk with your parents, friends in government. Alumni of the staff and of the school.
• Understand the fight will be long and draining. Team with others who know why the fight is important. The Student Press Law Center. Area press and/or university officials.
• Know this is a fight you simply have to wage.
• Fight to report the truth of events in your media.
• Know your stuff before you go face-to-face with the district or the media. Be prepared. Anticipate responses.
“Get as much input as you can,” Rome said, “and you’ll find that folks, whether they have a background in student journalism or not, strongly and passionately understand its value in society.”
Rome said before they began talking with district officials students armed themselves with the facts. Because they had reported on and investigated real issues in a professional way, they recognized the critical importance how to stand up for their rights.
“Just like in a news story, you’re nowhere without your facts,” Rome said. “I think that’s something special about journalists that enabled us to wage our campaign.
Just as flowery or sensational language doesn’t make a good article, it won’t make a good argument either. Know your facts and make forceful and reasoned arguments.”
Where a traditional fight against censorship isn’t working, Rome said, fight for your paper and for your community.
“Fight for this year, fight for next,” Rome said. “Fight for all those younger students excited about joining the paper. Fight for every student and parent in the district who deserve to be informed.”
Rome said that kept him going when things got tough was one from Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
“We feel like we did what we had to do,” Rome said, “what we thought was right. And that’s all that you can do.”
Next: More on setting up the fight and why it is not the adviser’s fight.
A Pennsylvania newspaper is reporting students of The Spoke and school officials at Conestoga High School feel they are drawing closer to an agreement over what student media policies will be.
Earlier this spring students and journalism educators raised concern over proposed changes in the policies which seemed to institute prior review.
Today’s article can be found here. A previous article from the Student Press Law Center can be found here. An SPLC podcast with the student editors can be found here. Stories from last spring’s Web site, the Stoganews.com, can be found here.
Students started their own Web site to keep the community informed about the issue.
The Main Line Media News quotes a school official, saying, “I would say that the school board and district have always encouraged students to express their opinions to the fullest extent of the law and the job of the adviser is to offer guidance,” said Robin McConnell, the administrative liaison to the school board’s policy committee. “Almost nothing was changed in the policy.”
According to the story, “students are, as always, to have their work reviewed by an adviser, but changes made to policy would not add or change requirements.” The existing policy had been in place for 15 years.
“Conestoga has built one of the nation’s most successful journalism programs with no mandatory prior review,” said Frank LoMonte, SPLC executive director. “The editors, advisers and principal observe a system of mutual professional courtesy in which students give great weight to the school’s input but make the final judgment calls themselves.”
LoMonte credits progress made to smart, involved parents and alumni who appreciate the educational experience provided by uncensored journalism and who used the democratic process to make themselves heard.
“Results speak for themselves,” he said.