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Changes to traditional news access create potential barriers at all levels of reporting

Posted by on Jan 19, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on Changes to traditional news access create potential barriers at all levels of reporting


by Stan Zoller, MJE

A move by the leadership in the Iowa state senate to prohibit journalists from working on the floor has implications far beyond the Des Moines statehouse. Student journalists, whether at the collegiate or scholastic level, need to keep an eye open for similar moves.

According to a report in the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“…Republican leaders in the Senate told journalists last week they will no longer be allowed to work on the chamber floor, a change that breaks with a more than 140-year tradition in the Iowa Capitol. The move raised concerns among free press and freedom of information advocates who said it is a blow to transparency and open government that makes it harder for the public to understand, let alone scrutinize, their elected officials…”

The keywords are “concerns among free press and freedom of information advocates who said it is a blow to transparency and open government that makes it harder for the public to understand, let alone scrutinize, their elected officials.”

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Creating inquiring minds or censoring them?

Posted by on Jan 13, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on Creating inquiring minds or censoring them?


A divided nation faces book and curriculum censorship, plus moves to prohibit discussion of anti-racist ideas in schools

by Candace Bowen, MJE

Can you teach controversial books in your class?

I always warn my students how dangerous question leads are and how a wrong answer can scare a reader away. But the question you just read is now my abiding concern – and should be yours, too, if you think students need to be challenged to think and to expand their minds.

A New York Times article announcing readers’ choices of the best 25 books in the last 125 years sparked a discussion on my Facebook page recently that should be a warning to everyone. The books ranged from “Charlotte’s Web” to “1984,” and “The Grapes of Wrath” to “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Not many comments into the strand, an English and journalism teacher, Sandy Cato, from the Northwest, wrote, “This list is interesting to me because of how few of these we would ever be able to get approved for use in school classrooms.”

“They are problematic,” she explained further, “and so many districts have become subtle censors by simply not approving or refusing to purchase important texts. Districts seem to choose to placate rather than educate if it risks conflict.”

Others added concerns related to similar issues – especially books that cover anything about race, sex/gender or politics. Some teachers had even been threatened or told flat out not to teach certain books. Now that more and more parents and community members are attending school board meetings, the battles about what to teach – and what NOT to teach – have even made headlines. The Intellectual Freedom Blog of the American Library Association covered more than 20 like these in its Jan. 7, 2022, posting:

  • The Atlanta Journalism-Constitution reported a member of the Georgia General Assembly is writing legislation to “shield children from age-inappropriate materials,” such as transgender issues, even though a national survey showed 20 percent of transgender and nonbinary youths reported attempting suicide in the previous year.
  • The Mississippi Free Press wrote about its state auditor supporting possible legislation to “ban educators from teaching ‘anti-racist’ ideas in schools.” This he posted on Facebook. 
  • NBC News focused its online article about a Texas school district that had pulled two award-winning graphic novels by Black author and illustrator Jerry Craft, one of many Black authors whose books are being banned, parents claiming they teach critical race theory.

The current “This American Life” podcast for Jan. 7, 2022, is “Talking While Black,” with Act Two devoted to an interview with Jerry Craft, who is really amazed that his “New Kid” graphic novel was so controversial. From a transcript, Chana Joffe-Walt, who interviewed him said, “What’s so interesting to me about this book in particular being kind of drawn into this CRT battle that’s supposedly about history. But your book is not a history book. This is literally just you writing down the story of your life.

Jerry Craft replies, “Right, yeah. It literally is based on what I actually see. There’s nothing that I haven’t lived myself.”

Now that more and more parents and community members are attending school board meetings, the battles about what to teach – and what NOT to teach – have even made headlines. The Intellectual Freedom Blog of the American Library Association covered more than 20 like these in its Jan. 7, 2022, posting.

The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week annually points out the harm of limiting student access to books and supports students’ right to explore and learn. About last year’s theme – “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us” —  the ALA website pointed out, “Sharing stories important to us means sharing a part of ourselves. Books reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Censorship, on the other hand, creates barriers.”

For 2022, Banned Books Week is Sept. 18-24.

There is hope, though. Further down in my Facebook post, Jenna Bates, journalism and English teacher at Bio-Med Science Academy in northeast Ohio, said, “It may help a bit to know that it’s not all districts. Where I teach, I — and I alone — decide the curriculum for my ELA course. I’m starting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ next week (only one student requested an alternate book), and we’ll do ‘The Hate U Give’ later this year. I’m lucky, but I do share your concerns about the profession and what it means to the future.”

When I taught high school English in Illinois, I must admit feeling a certain personal satisfaction when teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book the librarian removed from my high school library in Des Moines, Iowa, but one that has such important messages to deliver.

Today, I think one step further and wonder if some of our leaders would have been better off if they had read and taken to heart Atticus’s advice: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Books can teach us a lot about each other we might now learn any other way.

For information about teaching controversial books

Want to teach a controversial book but aren’t sure where to start? The Harvard Graduate School of Education has a website called “Usable Knowledge: Relevant research for today’s educators.” A Jan. 9, 2019 post by Jill Anderson, “Bringing Controversial Books into the Classroom,” has a list of six tips and explanations to help.

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Start 2022 with a scholastic press rights refresh

Posted by on Jan 8, 2022 in Blog | Comments Off on Start 2022 with a scholastic press rights refresh

Photo by Felipe Furtado via Unsplash

by Sarah Nichols, JEA president, MJE

The first few weeks of a new semester provide an important reset or blank slate. After a challenging fall for advisers, your goal may be to revisit scholastic press rights topics and do more with law and ethics training, especially if the past few months of reteaching and rebuilding called for massive shifts in your curriculum.*

Or maybe January marks the start of a new journalism course entirely, so you’re set to meet a new crop of students and want to begin on building awareness of First Amendment issues and support for student press freedom from the beginning. 

In any case, it’s always a good time to include more law and ethics in your journalism program. Here are some ideas for how to start 2022 with attention toward scholastic press rights education.

  1. Follow the news. Begin with the wonderful news of New Jersey becoming the 15th state to enact specific press rights legislation. The passage of S108 hit right as many schools adjourned for winter break, so this is a great time to discuss it in class. If students haven’t learned about New Voices yet, now is the perfect time.

Key questions: Do students know what press rights protection they have based on where you live? Are you in a state working toward New Voices legislation? Are there ways your students can participate? 

For balance, take a look next at this (possibly still-unfolding) not-wonderful news in Colorado.

Key questions: How do you feel after reading the student’s op-ed and the news article about what happened? Why? When it comes to student press freedom, do your students know the differences between public and private schools? If your program operates in a state with legal protection, do your students know what to do if they feel their rights have been violated? Do they know about the JEA’s Panic Button from the Scholastic Press Rights Committee? After reading about the situation at Regis Jesuit, do your students feel called to action somehow? Is this something to write about or explore further?

  1. Plan for remote learning. Make use of online resources, either to adjust as some schools return to virtual environments or to provide alternatives for students at home due to isolation, illness or other circumstances.

An easy way to provide choice and flexibility is to invite students to choose their own law and ethics session from this free online repository coordinated by Virginia High School League and Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers. Students can produce a slide, mini-lesson or other short debrief to share what they learned.

Seniors can work on Journalist of the Year entries and develop their law and ethics section with some extra help from this Portfolio Polish resource.

Prospective editors can build a plan for how they’ll teach important scholastic press rights issues to next year’s staff. Have you added a related question to your editor interview process?

Students of any experience level can also view and analyze these award-winning First Amendment PSAs and create their own.

All of these options work well for in-person scenarios, too, of course!

  1. Gear up for Scholastic Journalism Week. What gets scheduled gets done, so it’s time to help students plan for #SJW2022 (Feb. 21-25, 2022) and the #AmplifyingVoices theme.

Student Press Freedom Day is a signature aspect of the week-long celebration. The Student Press Law Center has developed a variety of activities and suggestions for how students can take part in advocacy, outreach and more for a day of action Feb. 24.

Look for more ideas — and share what you’re doing — on social media.

If you’re beginning a semester with new or transfer students, don’t forget to match them with a mentor from your staff to provide extra training on students’ rights and responsibilities as journalists.

As we embrace this fresh start, let’s show students how important these topics are by doing what we can to incorporate law and ethics activities on a regular basis in 2022.

* Don’t beat yourself up about what you didn’t get to last semester. Just start fresh!

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Breaking news is daunting, chaotic; focusing on ‘A-game’ is

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in Blog | Comments Off on Breaking news is daunting, chaotic; focusing on ‘A-game’ is



by Stan Zoller, MJE

To many journalists, the “rush” of a breaking news story is like no other feeling as journalistic instincts kick in at a moment’s notice.

Whether it’s an international, national, regional or local story, covering breaking news requires journalists to resort back to those A-game skills they learned as a student journalist.

It also entails an extreme attention to details as in the early stages of a breaking news story. As hard as it may be during the potential chaos that is often associated with a breaking story, fact checking and accuracy remains paramount.

The recent holiday parade tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin is a classic example. The instant and seemingly surreal unfolding of events pushed reporters to the limit to get out as much information. 

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Whose values?

Posted by on Nov 16, 2021 in Blog | Comments Off on Whose values?


Which shall shape journalism’s future? Values established by algorithms? Clickbait? Media revitalized by required journalism in schools? Democracy may hinge on which society values

by Jan Ewell

“Everyone is so friggin’ crazy! I’m going to quit reading the news and unsubscribe from everything,” a friend said to me.

I asked what caused her despair. She is an intelligent woman, a medical professional with her own practice. She sent me a link to a Scientific American article.

As a retired journalism teacher, I am called upon at least once a week to justify press decisions or to assuage the livid or the depressed. At that moment my friend was one of the livid.

Her link takes me to “Nominees for a Science Award Were All White Men—Nobody Won.”  

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