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The little things can add up when it comes to transparency in reporting

Posted by on Nov 30, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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Part of that digging is going beyond the minutes distributed by a public body from a meeting. The minutes, which are public records (except minutes from executive sessions), provide a record of what a board did, not necessarily how or why they did it.

by Stan Zoller, MJE

It’s not clear how the saying got started, but one thing is for sure, it’s a truism. Little things do add up.
And they may be able to help take the pain out of big things.  Like prior review.

It’s no secret those student media unfortunate to have content reviewed by an administrator often face that comment “you can’t run this” without any reason given. Administrators who get the dubious task of reviewing student media are often devoid of any journalistic background or clear understanding how public bodies, such as school boards, work.

Which, if played right, can be an advantage for student journalists. There’s a way to curb the over zealousness of consumers of student media who like to banter that just because “this is what the school board is considering, doing or did,” the action is gospel. Just ask them, “How do you know?”

The mere fact a school board, or any public body, votes to approve or deny action, does not mean the public knows the full story. 

In fact, it’s safe to say they don’t.

The legendary H.L. Hall always made it a point to tell workshop participants he would challenge his students to “dig” when they were working on a story.

Sound advice.

Part of that digging is going beyond the minutes distributed by a public body from a meeting. The minutes, which are public records (except minutes from executive sessions), provide a record of what a board did, not necessarily how or why they did it.

That’s where the digging comes in.

There are several ways reporters, including student reporters, can find out the hows and whys. One way is to find out if a board holds workshop meetings, often called committee of the whole (COW) during which board members hold discussions about proposals or recommendations. These are often put together by staff or board committees. It’s conceivable staff, or committees, will make a recommendation the board will vote on at the next regular meeting.

The first recourse is to obtain the full meeting packet that should contain support documents. That’s the good news. The bad news is many boards will provide only a summary to the board. The even worse news is that it’s not unusual for staff members who present findings to a board to only read the memo included in the packet

While COW meetings give the public and journalists a chance to hear some discussion on a topic, they still do not provide full transparency as to what went into the recommendation.

The first recourse is to obtain the full meeting packet that should contain support documents. That’s the good news. The bad news is many boards will provide only a summary to the board. The even worse news is that it’s not unusual for staff members who present findings to a board to only read the memo included in the packet.

Not only does this hinder transparency, it does not answer any questions or provide additional insights. It also makes for a very boring meeting. Trust me on this.

An important thing to know about COW meetings – no formal action can be taken. board members can be polled, but that is just to get a sense as to where the board stands on an issue. Official actions are taken only at regular board meeting.

The best thing for a reporter to do, and this includes student journalists, is to, and I can hear H.L. saying it, “dig.”

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Need assistance with censorship issues? Press the

Posted by on Nov 23, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission (SPRC) established a first line of confidential intervention for those who feel they face censorship or just want legal or ethical advice about journalism decisions.

The Panic Button.

The Panic Button is an online reporting tool where advisers, students, administrators or community members can confidentially share their journalism situations or questions.

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A gem you probably missed

Posted by on Nov 8, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Candace Bowen, MJE

As school was winding down in Spring 2020, media advisers scrambled to help students find photos – ANY photos – for the yearbook. Or tried to cover the pandemic locally on their new, we-don’t-know-quite-how-it-works-yet website. Or they just focused on helping their students finish the year.

As school was winding down in Spring 2020, “AASA School Administrator” magazine devoted the center section of its June 2020 issue – eight pages plus the editor’s “Starting Point” column – to student voices and their value in today’s schools. 


 

For most, it wasn’t a time to thumb through magazines, even ones with topics of interest. And for just that reason, many probably missed a wonderful gift: “AASA School Administrator” magazine devoted the center section of its June 2020 issue – eight pages plus the editor’s “Starting Point” column – to student voices and their value in today’s schools. 

The hard copy publication went to “20,000 individuals in school system administration, mostly superintendents, across the country,” editor Jay P. Goldman said in a letter to me for helping him connect with some writers. The issue is available online, too, and contains just the kind of information from administrators across the country that might help you convince YOURS that censoring and stifling student media is not the best way to go. Educationally sound reasons DO exist for having allowing students to make content decisions.

In his column, Goldman credits his career path to “a journalism elective course [he took] as an 11th grader taught by an outstanding teacher.” He notes that life doesn’t always run smoothly for student journalists, but the “real-world applications of effective communication and creative thinking skills [are] exactly what schools ought to be delivering these days.”

So what articles might you want to share with your administrators? “Giving Voice to Students Through Published Words,” by education writer Michelle R. Davis, contains plenty of great examples. She quotes Scott Kizner, who has been superintendent at several districts and testified in support of the Virginia New Voices legislation: “There are many times, let me tell you, that I wish the topic [the students were writing about] would go away, but you don’t get to pick and choose what is newsworthy to avoid difficult conversations.” 

Kizner told Davis students often want to discuss tough issues often before adults are ready to do so. “You have to trust the students and the staff that has been given the responsibility for advising them, to help them learn and grow.” 

Davis interviewed Roger Stock, superintendent of Rocklin Unified School District in California, who warned, “Censoring a story can boomerang back at you and be worse than the original story.” He added censoring “undermines the aim of an effective scholastic program: providing authentic learning and experiences in a real-world setting.”

“Censoring a story can boomerang back at you and be worse than the original story.” He added that censoring “undermines the aim of an effective scholastic program: providing authentic learning and experiences in a real-world setting.”–Roger Stock, superintendent of Rocklin Unified School District in California

Other parts of Davis’ article include examples of censorship and one superintendent saying he now takes a different approach and lets the students tell their stories. Another names the important skills  students learn through journalism: “research and reflection, presentation and communication, development of voice and the ability to express ideas clearly.” 

In “Amplifying Student Voice Through Their Publications,” Amy Besler described how poor the student media were in the first school to hire her as principal.  She noted how she was able to hire “a brilliant, experienced journalist, with no teaching background” made a big difference in the program. “Before long, she had turned a rag-tag bunch of unwitting students into journalists who took the initiative to develop a fantastic online site….”  

The former superintendent of Lordstown, Ohio, schools, Terry P. Armstrong, contributed “Student Journalism as a Route to Civic Engagement.” He said he worked with a new social studies teacher to encourage more student political involvement. That included hosting Democracy Day, which had Mary Beth Tinker as a speaker, and launching a student newspaper. Armstrong wrote he hopes “our students carry civic engagement with them into the future while protecting and promoting quality journalism for decades to come.” 

As Goldman noted at the end of his column, “Perhaps there’s never been a more important moment for the exercise of voice. Educators ought to do what they can to flex their students’ muscles.”

And one way to do that might be to share some of these articles with administrators at your school. School Administrator, June 2020

NOTE: Jay Goldman is a recipient of JEA’s 2020 Friend of Scholastic Journalism Award, which goes to a professional journalist, professional media outlet or other individual or group making a significant contribution to scholastic journalism. He has also volunteered for the Washington, D.C. National High School Journalism Conventions, leading Break with a Pro, helping set up media experience tours, getting featured speakers and judging Write-offs at the 2019 convention. This award is usually presented at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention awards luncheon, although, with this year’s virtual convention, some of us may want to reach out to congratulate Goldman by email.

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Covering elections and post-elections: what students care about

Posted by on Nov 5, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Cyndi Hyatt

Record numbers of citizens voted in this now contested presidential election, and the outcome of Tuesday’s contest may not be known for days.  And although most high school students cannot yet vote, they still have opinions and cares about the government and their future.  

Whoever wins Tuesday will set the tone for the next four years affecting these students as they come of legal age.

Students should be covering this election, but they first need to first ask what are the issues that affect their generation most and will have the greatest impact on their daily and future lives.

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Highlighting some SPRC key and most-used posts

Posted by on Oct 30, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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Press Rights Minute is one of several of our services buried in the SPRC vault. Press Rights Minute has a wealth of 60-second audio support on substantive, key journalistic, issues for advisers, students and administrators.

The Panic Button is a way to reach out for SPRC and JEA legal and/or ethical advice. We are not lawyers, but we can help while students or advisers contact the Student Press Law Center. It’s also an informative place for administrators and others to learn more about the dangers of not supporting journalism designated as a forum for student expression.

  • press rights minute
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Tinker: A Pillar of Strength is a compilation of lessons, activities and background of the importance of Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court decision and what followed it. It is varied; it is in depth and a provides at least a year’s worth of materials.

Having background like this year as we Handle(ing) Protests, Walkouts and Marches is essential. Although this was prepared for events and issues several years ago, it is relevant and offers solid advice for reporting in the charged atmosphere of pandemic, election and a divided nation.

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