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Two examples showing the need to protect
the information gathering process

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sprclogoWhen a school system tells students in a new policy it proposes that it wants student media to train students in journalism, it might be time to cheer.

But not when, in the same policy, it calls for student media “to foster a wholesome school spirit and support the best traditions of the school,” and reinforces prior review.

That is the case, according to a Student Press Law Center article published Sept. 30, about what’s going on at Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey.

The proposed new policy also calls for, in the way of journalism training:
• The principal to prior review and a requirement that the adviser review and “proofread” each issue
• Before students use an anonymous source, the adviser must get the sources’s name and contact information and evaluate the source for motive and credibility
• An increased period of time, from two to five days, for administrative prior review, which would apply to student media and all material produced during class or school-sponsored events for distribution.
• The proposed seven page policy also includes the Canons of Journalism and a statement the paper is meant to be distributed only within the school community.

The proposed guidelines follow a story a year ago where anonymous sources we re used in reporting that teachers had filed grievances against the superintendent.

While there are times society – and journalists – might question the use of anonymous sources, they are an essential aspect of reporting in some stories and situations because of official sources’ unwillingness to provide information.

“The biggest problem with this is now it puts the adviser of having to answer to the board of education directly or administration directly,” John Tagliareni, past president and current board member of the Garden State Scholastic Press Association, told the SPLC..

To require the state’s (adviser and thus administration) knowledge of a source’s identity is akin to slamming the door on legitimate information gathering.

Columbus Dispatch-SPLC college crime story shows need for expanded reporting

Such actions demonstrate a definite need for reporting crucial stories and the other side of the information gathering coin: looking at how college crime statistics can be deceptively inaccurate.

That project, carried out by the SPLC and reporters at the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch, provides a detailed and anecdotal look at how college crime statistics are misleading and give students misleading information on campus safety.

Both examples point to the need for a journalistically empowered, digging media asking tough questions, clarifying the significance and accuracy of statistical information.

The SPLC and the Dispatch reporting provide that insight. The proposed Highlands policy will block insight.

We hope community members of the Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey will reverse the misguided and destructive direction of their school board’s proposed policy.

Resources:
NJ editor speaks out after administrators spike story about district tensions
 Formerly censored article published in New Jersey student newspaper after school board and principal give OK

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