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Issues worth building lessons around

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Blog, Digital Media, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized, Visual Reporting | 0 comments

sprclogoAs we head into a break for the holidays, three issues and concepts stand out as worth some future  consideration.

• The First Amendment: In the land of the free, why are schools afraid of freedom by Charles Haynes.
Written by this First Amendment advocate following the JEA/NSPA Washington, DC, convention, the column challenges us all to question administrator misuse of First Amendment. The article cites instances of prior review to limit discussion of ideas and groups and the elimination of some groups from school student media coverage while permitting others. The last time I checked, ordering blanket silence on some groups served no educational value or pedagogy. Haynes likened this process as a fear of freedom and questioned such philosophy as a misplaced attempt to either make schools safe. He also urged all journalism programs in schools subject to prior review – or restraint – to build a campaign to end it. You certainly would have a legion of supporters.

• The epic Rolling Stone gang-rape fallout – and how major publications get it wrong. This is only one of many resources on this coverage that violated one of journalism’s basic principles: verify your information and ensure your sources are credible. Citing the premonition “something just doesn’t feel right” about a story, author Terrence McCoy leads with the story of Richard Bradley feeling the gang rape reported in Rolling Stone did not happen. Bradley, it seems, had some experience with this kind of thing before. He once edited Stephen Glass, McCoy wrote.

In a rush to get a seemingly wonderful story into print, journalists will not verify a story or have the right sources. Because such incidents happen more than we would like to admit, we must stress scholastic reporters like others have to go beyond pre-existing bias or view and learn to apply skills of skeptical knowing or crap-detecting or just plan digging to every story, every day and across every platform. It’s an ongoing lesson never to be dropped from our curricula or from our practices.

• A toolkit by the solutions journalism network and Pulitzer Center. This material caught my eye because it focuses on something we do not do enough of: Perspective reporting and identifying sources who strive for solutions. Historians have long said those who don’t learn about an issue or concept as destined to repeat it. Is it because journalists don’t do enough follow-up reporting, add enough perspective and address solutions? This particular piece might be just the right tool at the right time to help us not only report but to keep solutions or alternatives in the public’s eye. It’s certainly worth our time to investigate the concept and give its points a shakedown cruise. Even if our students do not deal with international issues, the principles and concepts presented are worth localization. Introducing at the scholastic level just might help students, whether they become commercial journalists or not, begin to know we need to think in terms of solutions as much as issues identification.

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Tweet19: Practice sensitivity in your reporting

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Practicing sensitivity is essential. Examine your approach to covering difficult topics. #25HZLWD

How do we, as today’s information consumers, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin and try 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?hazelwoodcolor

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 rightly, accurately and coherently.

We must also note any coverage can turn controversial if the reporter has not done his or her job. As Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism” quote Walter Lippmann, “just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.”

In other words, the authors say, the journalist is not objective, but his method can be.

Objectivity can thus be equated with the approach, the professionalism in information-gathering and storytelling.

For example, Kovach and Rosenstiel list these intellectual principles of a science of reporting:

  • Never add anything that was not there.
  • Never deceive the audience.
  • Be as transparent as possible abut your methods and motives.
  • Rely on your own original reporting.
  • Exercise humility.

In applying these guidelines to reporting of teens, also look at:

The goal, say the authors, for any coverage of sensitive information or not: what does the audience need to know so it can evaluate the information for itself.

• Protocol for covering sensitive issues
• The future of news: Investigative journalism
• Explain controversial coverage to your audience
• Can unconscious biases affect our news?
• How the media frames political issues
• 10 ways to talk to students about sensitive issues in the news
• Confidential news sources policy
• Getting source consent when handling sensitive issues
• Tips for successful investigative reporting
• Six roles, or job duties, of modern journalism


Questions for thought:
• 1 Walter Lippmann once castigated journalists as untrained, accidental witnesses. How do we train them not to be? In a 300-word position paper assignment, suggest ways students would try to develop scholastic journalists who were not.

2 Watchdog reporting implies that the student press should recognize where powerful institutions, like public schools, are working effectively as well as where they are not. What types of reporting would illustrate this statement? Develop a lesson plan to explore this approach with students, stressing its heritage and future with new media. Is it something they are willing to do?

• 3 Choose a topic sensitive to your school or one you know would be at your school. Outline the approach to the reporting, from planning to packaging and publishing. (Could also include multimedia. As you plan sources,  etc., show how you will avoid legal and ethical entanglements by identifying potential trouble points and how you would solve them.

• 4 School officials argue prior review is important because school media represent the image of the school to the community. Analyze this argument and make two sets of recommendations: one supporting prior review, the other arguing against it. Develop criteria and arguments for each position.

5 Explore instances where scholastic media excess damaged public trust, a belief in the First Amendment and/or a school system.  What led to the excess? How best could it have been prevented? What actions, including censorship, would have prevented it?  Would we be better off limiting our freedoms to avoid the excesses?  Why or why not? Sketch out an approach that could have prevented the excess.



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Another resource for teaching verification

Posted by on Jan 25, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Looking for a way to help students understand the importance of verifying information before they break stories – no matter which platform they use?

Check out NewsU’s Sources, Verification and Credibility self-directed course.

In the course you will study:

  • The characteristics of different forms of information, including news, advertising and public relations
  • How to identify different types of sources
  • How to evaluate the credibility of sources
  • How to assess the credibility of websites
  • Questions you should ask to ensure you’re publishing credible information.

As we saw this week, understanding the importance of verifying information and sources can be crucial to maintain credibility of our publications.

Like many of NewsU’s course, it is free. Like many of the courses, it is interactive.

* Note: So I am transparent, Candace Perkins Bowen developed the course.



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Ammunition against prior review and restraint Handling controversy, Part 3 of a series

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

Part of the difficulty in reporting controversial issues is how to define the term and the concept. Any article, if misreported in some way, can be controversial. Journalists would start with looking at the process of gathering information, of observing and conducting research.

Each of these steps would take place following journalistically responsible legal and ethical guidelines, no matter their platform.

In short, we avoid controversy even in sensitive issues through preparation and reliance on journalistic standards.

Our goal in Part 3 of Ammunition Against Prior Review and Restraint is to show coherent reporting begins with preparation using a variety of approaches. Resources for at least some of those ways are listed below.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote in The Elements of Journalism, “Rather than rush to add context and interpretation, the press needs to concentrate on synthesis and verification. Sift out the rumor, the innuendo, the insignificant and the spin, and concentrate on what is true and important about a story.”

Reporting in scholastic media that omits essential pieces of information because of review or restraint is an indirect form of fabrication. It destroys not only truth but credibility and reliability. Worse, it may be a little recognized contributor to a world where stakeholders – politically right and left – grow to mistrust media of all types.

We hope these resources will help you and your students in the quest to find a process for reporting stories that are thorough, accurate – and coherent:

• Reporting controversy requires establishing a sound process
• Sensitive Issues Guide
• 10 Tips for Reporting Controversy
• Using Anonymous Sources with Care
• Verification Before Publishing Prevents Issues
• Importance of Getting Consent in Some Issues
• Tips for covering controversial subjects
• Covering controversial topics guidelines, teaching outline

• Questions to ask about controversial issues
• 10 roles activity
• Introduction to handling controversial reporting PowerPoint
• Confidential sources PowerPoint
• Resources for reporting controversial issues




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Developing standards for social media use in your student media: Part 1

Posted by on Mar 22, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Marina Hendricks, SPRC commissioner

For “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course, John Bowen asked us to draft a position paper on social media as a tool for student journalists. I found it easier to think through the assignment by approaching it as a hypothetical letter from an adviser to students. Here’s the result.

Dear students,

Before we launch our Facebook page and Twitter feed, I’d like you to think about how you will use them in your coverage of the school community.

Keep in mind that our editorial policy applies not only to our print edition and website, but also to our social network platforms. As a result, your Facebook posts and tweets must be accurate, objective and fair. Information you collect from or share via Facebook and Twitter must be checked and verified – with no exceptions. This is especially critical for breaking news. You must get it right, even when it takes time to verify facts. Your audience depends on you for accurate information and trusts you to provide it. You don’t want to jeopardize that trust. Once it’s gone, it may never return. And readers and users will go with it.

Just as important, you must practice transparency. For readers and users, that means letting them know where you obtained information and under what circumstances. For sources, that means telling them how you plan to use information they provide. And as always, refer to the policy for guidance on anonymous sourcing.

Be vigilant about Facebook and Twitter content that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law.

Speaking of promotion, remember that you are in the news business, not public relations. You wouldn’t include rah-rah statements in print or online stories, would you? The same rule applies for social media content.

We’ve talked a lot about the responsibilities associated with being journalists. As tempting as it sometimes is, we don’t use our power of publication to promote personal agendas or settle scores. The instantaneous nature of social networks makes that even more tempting. However, I know you will continue to use the same exceptional judgment you bring to our print and online publications by remembering at all times that you represent (school publication name). I know your posts and tweets will reflect your professionalism as journalists.

Our Facebook page and Twitter feed give us two new ways to reach our school community. Use them to start conversations, seek feedback and provide another window into our newsroom.

Finally, take a look at our editorial policy and see if there’s anything you want to update with respect to our social media platforms.

Good night, and good luck …

Your Adviser

Resource: “Online Ethical Considerations,” provided through Social Role of the Mass Media, Kent State University, spring 2011

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