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Throwing journalism to the dogs – the watchdogs

Posted by on Jan 11, 2023 in Blog | Comments Off on Throwing journalism to the dogs – the watchdogs

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

Watchdog reporting can make a difference.

When you think of watchdog reporting, chances are you’ll think of mainstream media – The Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, etc. 

Watchdog journalism: Student scribes should doggedly stick to journalistic fundamentals by reporting the truth by providing attribution, being honest with readers, adhering and documenting facts and being a positive force in the community. Original pexels photo by Kateryna Babaieva

Don’t however, look past non-profit organizations dedicated to enhancing transparency in government.

The BGA staff includes a number of outstanding and award-winning journalists who do more than report and investigate.

They advocate. 

One of the best is the Chicago-based Better Government Association. In addition to being an invaluable resource for information about open meetings, freedom of information issues, the BGA also aggressively addresses issues related to government actions, transparency and openness not just by blogging about them, but through outstanding and dogged reporting.

Student journalists, as the voice of their school’s student body, have an obligation to not only report on what’s happening at school, but to be the voice and advocates for the student body.

It’s not something district and building administrators are going to buy into, but as more and more school districts are required to teach civics, the bar of journalistic excellence and advocacy rises.

It’s easy for cynics to call investigative and watchdog journalism “fake news”  because the reality is, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan R. Jessep in the 1992 classic, “A Few Good Men,” they can’t handle the truth.

What student journalists can do is go above and beyond fundamental journalism to ensure they avoid allegations of fake news.

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When the law becomes a ‘liabullyity’

Posted by on Jan 2, 2023 in Blog | Comments Off on When the law becomes a ‘liabullyity’

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

Victory is sweet.
Whether on the football field, baseball field, soccer field or in the legislature.  It’s always great to win one for the ‘Gipper’ – or whomever.
When it comes to New Voices laws, the victors are student journalists. In those states where New Voices laws have been passed, scholastic journalism programs are experiencing a new breath of fresh air and the opportunity to practice journalism the way it should be practiced – without undue and unjust interference.

Districts are developing new policies for student activities, including student media. It appears some are cookie-cutter policies not drafted by a school board or district legal counsel. One example is a district with a policy for “High Schools.”

scrabble tiles

            At least that’s what you would hope.

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Make time for the First Amendment

Posted by on Dec 4, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on Make time for the First Amendment

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by Sarah Nichols, MJE
JEA President

December is a busy month, I know. And things still feel slower and more difficult than our pre-pandemic student media operations. But that’s all the more reason to invest the time to discuss and apply for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Don’t underestimate your eligibility or feel like you “haven’t done enough” this year to deserve recognition. Applying to recognize your school doesn’t require a big fancy project or massive undertaking. You’re probably doing more than you realize to promote First Amendment awareness on your campus.

It may be outside your comfort zone to apply for an award. Instead of seeing it as seeking the spotlight, think of it this way: Your student media program is actively applying the First Amendment, and your school is supporting student press freedom. Sharing this acknowledgement not only makes you all look good, but it helps guarantee these policies and practices will continue for years to come. And what serves as positive reinforcement on your campus also adds to the list nationally. Journalism programs are worth fighting for – and recognizing.

If you’ve never thought about it, now’s the time. 

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Apply by Dec. 15 for national First Amendment recognition for student media and school

Posted by on Nov 23, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on Apply by Dec. 15 for national First Amendment recognition for student media and school

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Schools, even if honored before with the First Amendment Press Freedom Award, must re-apply each year

If you feel your school actively supports and honors the First Amendment through its student media, consider submitting an entry for this year’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award. The two round award looks at the entire student media program and school support. Digital and print newspaper, yearbook and student broadcast are considered part of student media.

Information and Round One submission forms for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award (formerly the Let Freedom Ring Award) are available at the link below.

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A lesson from Tereza 

Posted by on Sep 9, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on A lesson from Tereza 

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Tereza is from the Czech Republic. Being somewhat unabashed, I quickly showed her the First Amendment printed on the back of the shirt. Her reaction? “That’s cool.” Imagine that, a young adult from a country with a history of political strife and dictatorships, thinks the First Amendment is cool. Moreso, she probably realized how important the five freedoms are and how lucky we are to have them guaranteed.

by Stan Zoller, MJE

My wife and I like to travel. It’s one of the joys of retirement. Earlier this year we decided set sail into the Caribbean to escape the cold and gloom of a Chicago winter.

Knowing I would not need sweatshirts, parkas and a plethora of other winter clothing, I made sure I backed plenty of shorts and T-shirts. And even though I am retired from active teaching and active reporting, I have not (nor will I) retired from advocating for press rights – whether scholastic, collegiate or professional.

So, I decided to combine my passion for press rights with the need for T-shirts by taking all of my press rights shirts with me – from JEA’s “45 Words” shirt to a shirt available from the Society of Professional Journalists’ “I Back the First” shirt, which, like the 45 Words shirt, includes the First Amendment.

It was a breath of fresh air to hear positive comments from people about the need for journalists and the importance of the First Amendment. There may have been some folks who took exception to a free press, but I didn’t hear from them.

One person, however, did have a question. A staff member at one of the beverage stations asked what it meant to “back the First.”

Her name was Tereza. She is from the Czech Republic. Being somewhat unabashed, I quickly showed her the First Amendment printed on the back of the shirt.

Her reaction? “That’s cool.” 

Imagine that, a young adult from a country with a history of political strife and dictatorships, thinks the First Amendment is cool. 

Moreso, she probably realized how important the five freedoms are and how lucky we are to have them guaranteed.

Two takeaways: 1. Perhaps she was envious. 2. Maybe we should be fortunate.

It shouldn’t take someone from an eastern European bloc country to reinforce the value of the five freedoms of the First Amendment. We also need to make sure that our student journalists don’t take the freedoms, especially Freedom of the Press, for granted.

A lot of people do. 

In 2006, when the Robert R. McCormick Foundation operated the “Freedom Museum” in Chicago, it surveyed 1,000 people and found that, wait for it, fewer than one percent could identify all five First Amendment freedoms, but more than 20 percent could identify the entire Simpsons family. Reality, what a concept.

With Constitution Day just around the corner (Sept. 17), it’s a good time to revisit not only the First Amendment, but the entire constitution and goals the framers had in mind when they wrote, debated and ultimately ratified and signed it.

As American democracy comes under fire, so too does the Constitution and the freedoms it has provided Americans since its signing 235 years ago. Student journalists – whether scholastic or collegiate need to do more than memorize the First Amendment – they need to practice it and perhaps more importantly, defend it.

With Constitution Day just around the corner (Sept. 17), it’s a good time to revisit not only the First Amendment, but the entire constitution and goals the framers had in mind when they wrote, debated and ultimately ratified and signed it.

It’s hard to imagine where we would be without it and even harder to imagine where we will be in the future if its foundation crumbles.

We need to agree with Tereza that it’s “Cool.”

We also need to agree that we wouldn’t want to trade places with her.

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