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The role of student media

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sprclogoFoundations_mainEthical guidelines
Journalists often are considered mirrors on society. As such, journalism should reflect the community in which it is produced. In order to also maintain their watchdog function, journalists must also be able to act as candles that illuminate and challenge a community’s values and preconceptions. Monitoring the status quo and the powers that be is one way journalists can both reflect and challenge their communities. This journalistic practice helps maintain the free and accurate flow of information.

Additionally, student media should be independent from their school’s public relations arm. The purpose of student media is to report school and community issues and events. Consequently, the purpose of student media is not to protect the image of the school or district.

These roles are premised on the idea that student media can operate in an independent manner.

JEA strongly rejects both prior review and restraint as tools in the education process and agrees with other national journalism education groups that no valid educational justification exists for prior review of scholastic media.

Prior review and prior restraint of student media content by school officials are weapons in the arsenal of censorship. Not only do they limit student learning and application, but they also restrict student critical thinking and analysis.

  • Prior review occurs when school administrators – or anyone in a position of authority outside the editorial staff – demands to read, view or approve content prior to publication and/or distribution. JEA includes review, but not demanding change, as part of the adviser’s role.
  • Prior restraint happens when anyone not on the student staff – often after they have read material (prior review) – requires pre-distribution changes to inhibit, ban or restrain content before release to the audience.

Free expression, supported by journalistic responsibility, empowers students to exercise their civic engagement and responsibility as they practice the principles of a free, open democracy.

Staff manual process
A media-level editorial policy/guideline should designate student media as public forums for student expression in which students make all final decisions of content without review from school officials.

Student journalists must be attuned to the institutions, people and issues that most affect their readers: students. By engaging with this community, actively looking for stories and becoming part of the institutional fabric of their schools, student journalists will be prepared to recognize which stories will reflect and challenge their community.

Students should define this distinct role in their school community and should highlight the difference between their role and that of the school’s public relations department.

Suggestions
• Persuade school officials to adopt or endorse a policy that designates student media as public forums for student expression in which students make all final decisions of content without prior review.
• Develop principles and procedures that uphold scholastic media as designated public forums practicing professional and ethical standards.
• Be the eyes and ears for readers. What information should they know but aren’t likely to seek on their own?
• Assign beats to represent the most important topics, institutions and people in the community. Keeping tabs on the same topic throughout the year will help students develop a keen nose for news and will help them understand the unique dynamics at play in their community.
• Include entrepreneurial assignments that allow students to explore key issues and events in the communities, expanding their eyes and ears for news.
• Address strategies that help reporters remain detached from stories they cover in their own communities. The staff manual should address strategies for situations when students are too entrenched in the community to cover it in an ethically sound manner.
• Elaborate the specific role of student media in the community and how this role differs from the school’s public relations functions.
• Encourage an open-door policy and open line of communication between editors and administrators, but don’t allow student media to serve as an extension of the district public relations department.
• Ensure coherent and complete coverage of events, issues and people provides evidence of the student media program’s commitment to professional standards.

How administrators can help
Strong strategies exist to help administrators support quality journalism programs. These include:
• Working with advisers and students to develop public forum policies
• Hiring qualified advisers and journalism teachers
• Working with students cooperatively to be good sources for stories
• Building trust in the learning and communication process in a way that also reduces liability concerns of the school system
• Offering constructive feedback after each publication or airing
• Increasing dialogue among school staff and students, thus encouraging outlets of expression that strengthen school safety( • Expanding school and community understanding and appreciation of the value of free, journalistically responsible, student media
• Providing necessary resources to support and maintain student media programs, including financial support, master schedule preferences, development opportunities and time.

JEA condemns prior review because it
• Contradicts the school’s responsibility to teach and maintain, through example, the principles of democracy
• Enables school administrators, who are government officials, to decide in advance what people will read or know. Such officials are potential newsmakers, and their involvement with the news-making process interferes with the public’s right to know
• Creates the possibility of viewpoint discrimination, undermining the marketplace of ideas and all pretext of responsible journalism
• Leads to self-censorship, the most chilling and pervasive form of censorship. Such fear eliminates any chance of critical thinking, decision-making or respect for the opinions of others
• Stifles growth so students do not mature into thinking, discerning, effective contributing citizens in the democracy
• Impairs the ability of a school’s communities to discern the truth about the school and the accuracy of information citizens need to make logical decisions and cast intelligent votes
• Negates the educational value of a trained, professionally active adviser and teacher working with students in a counseling, learning environment. Prior review simply makes the teacher an accessory, as if what is taught really doesn’t matter.

Instead, we believe
• Rights, not authority and discipline, prepare students for roles in a democracy as thinking, discerning, contributing citizens
• Student media best serves their communities when they are editorially independent and present truthful and accurate information
• Student media are safe and peaceful places a for dissemination of ideas, and with ideas there is no clear right or wrong
• Ultimate civic engagement and involvement only occur where students learn that they can practice constitutional guarantees
• Responsible journalism occurs when a qualified faculty adviser, clear publications policies and professionally oriented journalism curriculum exist
• Prior review interferes with the dynamic process of learning. Such review and censorship are the last resort of an educational system failing its present and future citizens.

Resources
Journalism Education Association Statement on Prior Review
Statements to Accompany JEA’s Definitions of Prior Review and Restraint, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Lesson: Crafting the Argument, Journalism Education Association
Questions for Those Who Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Building a Climate of Trust Can Ease Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Seeking a Cure for the Hazelwood Blues: A Call to Action, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Audio: Positive Administrator Relations, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Audio: 10 Tips for Dealing With Censorship, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute

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