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Posted by on Jan 9, 2018 in Blog, Featured, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


A summary of SPRC

Forum status of student media
• If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials.

Prior review v. prior restraint
In brief, the Journalism Education Association has found prior review has no educational value. Instead, JEA believes it is simply the first step toward censorship and fake news. Prior review also contributes to self-censorship and lack of trust between students, advisers and administrators. Prior review conflicts with JEA’s adviser code of ethics.

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?
Editorial policies are the foundations for your journalism program. Often short, these statements address forum status, who makes final decisions of content and prior review.

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make
Students should understand while they can and should adopt best legal practices and ethical guidelines for their publication, the school district’s or school board’s media policy (if one exists) could impact the legal and ethical decisions of student editors.

What do you do in the event of student faculty death?
It’s important to have a guideline in place before a student or staff member dies. Journalists should report a student or staff death in an objective, consistent manner that has been decided when the staff manual is being revised. Choosing what to publish at the time of any tragedy is not wise and can cause staffs to make choices that create problems in the future.

Balance and objectivity are key to reporting
Balance and objectivity don’t mean isolation and a lack of care about people and their stories.

They do mean trying to report all points of view as best you can and providing background and context for the story.

Free press –– why students should make all decisions of content
For students to prepare themselves for their roles in a democracy, they must be able to practice guarantees of the First Amendment, thus knowing they can make a difference.

Avoid senior quotes; give them to senior class for publishing
The question of using senior quotes in student media came up recently on JEA’s listserv. The Scholastic Press Rights committee would urge schools not to run them, but turn them over too the senior class as part of its responsibility.

Should student media publish senior superlatives?
Publishing senior superlatives, if seniors decide they are worthwhile at all, is one of those “traditions” best moved from student media to those who most clearly benefit – the senior class.

So your student media want to do senior wills?
Because senior wills have minimal journalistic value and great potential for damage, they should not be used in school publications.

The issues with April Fools coverage
April Fool’s issues are fake news and can damage student media’s credibility.

Yes, some find them acceptable, but their negatives far outweigh their positives. The ultimate question is are they worth the risks?

Allowing sources to preview content is ethically questionable
The newest reporter on staff chooses to cover the story about the Science Department’s new policy on studying animal life. To do so, she must interview the head about a new policy on studying animal life. It’s fairly controversial because People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is strongly opposed to dissection and the new curriculum for advanced biology includes that.

What to do if sources, including the expert, want to see the story ahead of time?

Takedown requests: When the right to preserve history conflicts with the desire to forget it
As more student newspapers move to digital platforms, editors and advisers are facing a new and insidious form of post-publication censorship: takedown requests.

The requests usually go something like this: “I was a student at [fill in name] high school [fill in number] years ago, and I was interviewed/wrote a story/was in a photo/made a comment that I regret now. I don’t want this showing up in Google searches. Please remove this story from your site.”

Publishing memes also means knowing copyright rules
Entertainment. Political statements. A way to comment on issues, events, people

And, if not done correctly, says Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, a way to violate the owner’s copyright. A violation several owners pursued.

Who should be on student media editorial boards, make decisions?
Because student media are productions of student work, only students should be on editorial boards of student media. That would include the general manager and producers of broadcast media.

The importance of staff editorials
Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Covering controversy
Although some administrators would like for students to only publish “positive” stories, a journalist’s job is to watch and report on the school. This may involve students including stories that might make the school “look bad.”

Disturbing images: public’s right to know v. invasion of privacy
A 9-year-old girl, burning from napalm, runs naked down a Vietnam road. A vulture watches a Sudanese child, emaciated from famine, crawl across the ground. Two yellow-clad health workers carry a limp 8-year-old boy who might be infected with Ebola to a treatment facility.

Determine who owns student work before publication begins
Absent a written agreement indicating otherwise, student journalists own the copyright to the works they create. Each media outlet should ensure it has clear policies in place for staff members and the publication that spell out ownership and the right of the publication to use student work

The role of the adviser is multifold, but ethically, practically not a doer
The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer. We like the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as guides for advisers.

That role means letting students make all decisions including content, context and grammar.

How can my school get involved in the New Voices campaign?
Almost a quarter of all states have now passed legislation protecting voice in student media, and instilling the virtues of the First Amendment as state statute for student media. North Dakota’s success in 2015 seemed to spark the latest fire that has seen legislative recognition of student speech in Illinois, Maryland, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Empowering student decision-making
The role of the adviser in student-run media incorporates teacher, coach, counselor, listener and devil’s advocate but not doer. We like the JEA Adviser Code of Ethics as guides for advisers

Responsibility in scholastic media starts with ethics, accuracy, complete story
Administrators may want student media that depicts the school in a positive light, that promotes good news and overlooks the negative.

Is this responsible journalism?

Advisers may want student media that reflects students’ technical proficiency such as mechanics, grammar and style. Little else matters.

Is this responsible journalism?

Decision-making for most student broadcasts protected same as print, online
As more schools expand their journalism programs to include broadcast and radio, it should be clear how Tinker and Hazelwood positively or negatively affect broadcast programs

The answer is: it depends.

If they go out over the broadcast airways, Federal Communications Commission regulations apply.

Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism status as an open public forum
Forum concept reinforced by Dean v. Utica Community schools decision

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?
JEA historically has opposed prior review of student media by school officials.

That opposition continues.

Prior review leads only to control, active censorship and iis the first step toward the spread of fake news and less than complete disinformation.

What, students have rights?  Since 1943
Before the Barnette decision,when students came into conflict with public schools, the courts decided their cases—often against the students—without mentioning students’ right. They considered if the punishment was excessive (beating with a rawhide strap was okay in 1859). They also debated if it was the parents’ right or the schools’ right to discipline the students. The First Amendment was never mentioned.

Journalism integrity guides student media
As scholastic media advisers and students develop policies and guidelines to guide them with journalism standards, they should note these words: The only thing students have to lose as journalists is their credibility.

Ethical guidelines for monitoring yearbook coverage
Arguably, the two biggest complaints most yearbook staffs hear are that a wide cross section of the school is not covered adequately, and quotes are not represented accurately. These are tough criticisms to hear, but staffs must consider the potential criticism while they create the book.

Equipment purchase does not mean content control
It has long been understood that school purchase of equipment or provision of a room that is not the only factor in who controls the content.

There other factors, including a guiding court decision.

Ethical photo editing, visuals
Student media should avoid electronic manipulation that alters the truth of a photograph unless it is used as art. In that case it should be clearly labeled as a photo illustration.

Academic dishonesty lessens media effectiveness
Dishonesty compromises the integrity and credibility of the student publication. The editorial board and/or adviser should address any instance of academic misconduct immediately

Social media that works in high school classrooms
Social media has had such a profound effect on journalism that it’s sometimes hard to remember how traditional news functioned before it. Reading this 2009 MediaShift article is a powerful reminder that Twitter wasn’t always the source of breaking news. In fact, as author Julie Posetti wrote just eight years ago, “Some employers are either so afraid of the platform or so disdainful about its journalistic potential that they’ve tried to bar their reporters from even accessing Twitter in the workplace.”

Handling online comments
Deciding whether to accept online comments can be a tough decision they can carry a lot of baggage. How to review and verify them? How does refusing to run them affect your forum status?

And that’s only the first decision.

When sources don’t respond
The publication staff will provide every reasonable opportunity for sources to respond to a request for an interview. Students must first attempt to contact the source in person or through an administrative assistant. If the person is not available, they should attempt calling and leaving a message with a request for an in-person interview. If, after 24 hours, the source does not respond to the telephone call, staffers should send an email requesting an in-person interview with a clear deadline by which the staffer will include the line “the source did not respond to an interview request.”

The perks of being a wallflower: How a school district escaped a lawsuit by fostering an independent student press
Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit against the district failed. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused two ads.

Choosing topics for editorials
The best and most effective staff editorials are those that tackle an important topic and then give audiences a reason and a way to address it.

The importance of staff edits: critical thinking, leadership
Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Given all of these responsibilities, it’s easy to see why writing an unsigned staff editorial might seem a lower priority than getting the next edition to print or finishing that great feature on the new student body president.

What is the process if someone wants to submit a guest commentary
Accepting guest commentaries, offered randomly, reinforces student media’s role as a public forum for student expression.

Letters or commentary can enhance public forum role
Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

The process of deciding staff editorials
Keys to effective editorials include focused positions, credible sources and meaningful topics. If the topic is focused on issues and problems, strong editorials include a call to action or possible solutions.

“I wrote that just to get a grade:” Students should write what they believe
To ensure credibility, students should only write opinion stories that represent their beliefs. If, during the research phase, the student changes his or her mind, then the story should be reassigned or the content of the story be altered to reflect the change in view.

Interviewing ‘people on the street’
Four categories of sources exist: experts, authorities, knowledgeable and reactors (sometimes called bozos). The first three should be credible. The last not so much.

Why ask “what do you think about the tax levy?” if the person has no knowledge at all?

Students should ask permission to record before interviews begin and ethical reminders about interviewing
One of those areas easily overlooked is asking for permission to record interviews. Ethically — and in some states legally — students should always ask permission to record an interview.

Make it matter: Scholastic journalism must do more than give facts
How can student journalists keep their publications relevant when information spreads faster than they can report it?

Professional journalists have struggled with this problem for years. Before the advent of the internet and social media, news producers — whether newspaper, radio or broadcast — were citizens’ primary source of information. News consumers found out about terrorist attacks and new government policies when they opened the morning paper or turned on the evening news

Make it matter: Verification essential as journalists seek truth
One key component of every journalist’s ethical code is truth. Given that Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” their 2016 word of the year and the president has called venerable traditional news sources “fake news,” getting the facts right is more crucial than ever.

Verifying information is an essential part of the reporting process.

Respecting privacy and public space  important for photographers
Student journalists should never invade the privacy of others while accessing information or photos for a story.

However. it is their journalistic duty to know what constitutes invasion of privacy or what spaces they are legally allowed to access and what spaces they are not legally allowed to access.

Seeking visual truth is just as important as written truth
A reporter working on a story pauses from her transcription. “Hm,” she thinks. “This is a good quote, but my source could have said it so much better. I’ll just change it around and add a bit …”

By this point, responsible student journalists and their advisers are horrified. Of course you can’t change a source’s quote! Our job is to seek truth and report it, not to create fiction.

Consider emotional impact as well as news values when choosing images
When the editors of the Panther Prowler, the student-run school newspaper for Newbury Park High School, decided to write a feature article about teenagers having sex in 2015, they knew it was going to be controversial. The controversy wasn’t just about the content of the article, however — it was also about the image they paired with it, which appeared on the cover of their special edition magazine.

Since the article’s focus was the impact of limited sex education in and out of the classroom, the editors decided to use an iconic sex ed image: a condom on a banana.

Keeping ads and content separate
Student journalists should maintain a wall between promotional/paid content and journalistic content.

That historical wall should remain intact to help reassure audiences the content they receive is as thorough and complete as possible.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel say in The Elements of Journalism, journalists’ first loyalty is to the truth while maintaining an independence from those they report.

Handling controversial ads/content
Student media should not discriminate against advertising based on students’ personal beliefs.

For example, students should attempt to include advertisers from multiple perspectives. According to the federal court decision in Yeo v. Lexington, student editors have the right to reject advertisements and school administrators are not legally responsible for advertising decisions students make.

Handling sponsored content, native ads
Although it is quite possible scholastic media will never face making a decision to run material known as sponsored content or native ads, students and advisers should prepare guidelines just in case.

Sponsored content and native advertising, two media terms for paid materials, are becoming a fact of life for media and consumers. That said, student media, when faced with publishing them, should act carefully and with the best interests of the audience/consumer first.

Ad placement 
Newspapers used to keep in-depth, front page and opinion pages completely separated from advertising.

The thinking was the advertising and promotion of products should not appear to influence a newspaper’s editorial choices. They wanted to keep their most important pages dedicated to the content they deemed most important.

Political ads: Who can place an advertisement
Students make all content decisions, including those related to advertising, and maintain the right to reject any ads.

Student media do not necessarily endorse the products or services offered in advertisements. Students should strive to retain as much control of funds or services obtained from the sale of advertising, subscriptions or other student fundraisers as possible. All businesses should have a street address

Accepting ads from competing organizations
Students who sell ads sometimes hesitate to solicit advertising from competing companies. They sometimes have a loyalty to one of their clients or they believe their clients will be frustrated if their competitor is also advertising in the same publication.

This is a good problem to have. Too many advertisers want to support your publication, and you should encourage a forum for advertising that is as robust as your editorial content

















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New Quick Tips listing can help provide
solutions, guides to media issues

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Working on a sensitive story? Looking to add new ethical  guidelines to help students deal with new technology? Want to finalize the process to use if students wish to run political ads or endorsements?

Quick Tips can help with ethical guidelines supported by reasoning and staff manual procedures to reach outcomes you desire.

If you or your students have suggestions to add to our list, please contact SPRC Director Lori Keekley.

This is our latest Quick Tips list. We hope you find its points useful.

Each newly posted QT  has a short annotation and a link to the materials. Each addition also has links for more depth and related content.

To see a list of already posted Quick Tips, please go here.

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Editorial policy sets forum status,
decision-making standard and more

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Editorial policy

What is it/definition: Designed to provide legal framework for student media, editorial policies come in two forms, school-board level and media-level. In case of conflicts, a school-board policy usually will take precedence. Absent a policy, practice can help determine freedom of expression status. Typical content of an editorial policy can include:

  • Level of freedom of expression
  • Responsibility for student media content
  • Forum status
  • Prior review and restraint
  • References to guiding legal decisions and theories
  • Language about journalistic responsibility, civic engagement and future of democracy 
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Choosing the right forum can be a make-or-break decision

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Forums protect your expression, audience’s right to know

What is/definitions

Forums come in three types – closed, limited and public/open – and how they are interpreted can make the difference between being censored, reviewed and restrained or being a place of learning citizenship and free expression


Important items of note

The three types of forum and information about them are:

  • Closed forum:

An example of closed is a PTA newsletter. The owner of the forum can control its content. Censorship is allowed. Little learning about the role of a free press in a democracy would take place. Little learning about the various roles of journalism would take place.

  • Students have no expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
  • Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
  • Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
  • Hazelwood applies.


  • Limited public/open forum:

A limited forum can be limited to whatever the establisher of the forum wants it to be: a forum for sports coverage, for example. It can be reviewed, or not reviewed, by the originator’s designation. If reviewed, the owner of the forum has all the legal responsibility and control. If not reviewed, the students, for example, could be designated as being in charge and enjoy the freedoms and bear the responsibility. A good many student media fall into this category where school districts trust their students, their advisers and their curriculum. Students learn about the media’s role in a democracy, and about their own civic responsibility. If education about the media’s role in a democracy and learning critical-thinking and responsibility are the school’s mission, then the second type of limited forum is used.



  • Students have no expectation of freedom of expression
  • Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
  • Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
  • Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
  • Hazelwood applies.



  • Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
  • Students should expect to create original material.
  • Students should expect to make decisions.
  • Tinker applies if no prior review.


Public/open forum:

The third category is an open forum, much like speakers’ corner in the United Kingdom. Anyone can speak, and the school (government) bears no legal responsibility. Schools can designate student media as open forums by policy or practice. This is noted within the Hazelwood decision, as is a limited open forum with student decision-making control.


Within the open and limited forums, students would certainly not publish any materials they found to be unprotected speech — libel, obscenity, material disruption of the school process (Tinker guidelines), unwarranted invasion of privacy and copyright infringement. Students would be taught this through a journalism curriculum by a trained adviser or through workshops and seminars available to an extracurricular publication.


Open forums:

  • Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
  • Students should expect to create original material.
  • Students should expect to make decisions.
  • Tinker applies if no prior review.


Importance of designated forum status

  1. There is no requirement that any government agency establish a forum of any kind.
  2. But once a government does establish a forum, it cannot dictate the content of that forum.
  3. Jurisprudence sees three types of forums: open, limited, closed.
  4. The closed forum is a place that traditionally has not been open to public expression. Examples, in schools, could be newsletters or other means of communication not open to public use. So long as restrictions are reasonable and not based on a desire to suppress certain viewpoints, the government may close public access to them.
  5. The open or traditional public forum is a place with a long history of expression, such as a public park or street corner. The government can only impose content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions on speech in this forum. To override the open, public forum status, the government would have to show a compelling interest.
  6. The limited forum has the most problematic history. It is a place with a limited history of expressive activity, usually only for certain topics or groups. A meeting hall or public-owned theater are examples. The government may limit access when setting up a forum but may still not restrict expression unless there is a compelling interest. Schools, as government institutions, may, by “policy or practice,” open student media for indiscriminate use by the public or some segment of the public.
  7. A designated public forum enables students to make decisions of content, thus empowering them to practice critical thinking and civic engagement roles.
  8. Educational value of the designated open forum is mirrored by the fact most schools have mission statements identifying these as essential life skills for students to learn while in school.
  9. Prior review and a lack of trust in the product (students) schools are expected to produce undermines the very missions school officials say are among their most important.
  10. Studies have clearly shown that students, and communities in general, do not understand the importance of the First Amendment. One reason may be that students are not allowed to practice what they are taught while in schools and thus do not believe the theories of the democratic system.


These definitions should help you understand public forums:

  • Forums by policy:An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice:A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.



Students should choose the forum carefully and refer to it in the policy section of your Legal and Ethical manual. It might also play a role in the Mission statement.


Best student practices:

Ideally, after student discussion, student will choose and be able to practice the public/open forum model. That allows the greatest freedom of expression and educational growth because it allows students the most journalistic responsibility and school officials the most protection.


Questionsto ask those who oppose public forum status for student media:

  1. Collect all the documentation you can find to demonstrate why you believe your publication has been operating as a designated public forum.
  2. Ask administrators why they are objecting to/changing your public forum status (and try to get their response in writing). Try to keep the communication channels open so you and students know the reasoning and details.Pay special attention to any statements they make suggesting their actions were in response to something the publication published.
  3. Obtain a copy of the replacement language for the policy if whoever is making/suggesting a change has replacement language.
  4. Find out whether the changes come from the board of education or from administrators. If the board, did it make the changes in an open meeting? If it has not made the decision yet, when will it and can discussion occur?
  5. See if you can find out if and how administrators or the board is receiving legal assistance. Also find how, and if, these people have handled similar cases or incidents before. Being aware of their arguments might enable you to anticipate and counter them.
  6. Know your state’s education codes and state student free expression laws. It is possible you have language that can protect you.
  7. Call SPLC to report the move and ask for guidance.
  8. Seek and prepare individuals and groups (from students, parents, commercial journalists and possibly even a local attorney — preferably one who understands scholastic media law) to ask questions, voice concerns and to be observers of the process.
  9. Prepare a process to keep the discussion about change in the public’s eye


Quick Tip:

Forum status of student media   If your students are revising or developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials.


Quick Tips index   A list of nearly 70 journalism processes showing the interaction between every day journalistic processes and actions and ethical principles.


SPRC blogs

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not,Written by Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State university, this article focuses what makes student media public forums and what does not. Goodman writes, “School officials’ ability to legally censor school-sponsored student expression at public junior high and high schools is determined by whether they can meet the burden the First Amendment places on them to justify their actions. Often the most important question in that analysis is whichof two First Amendment standards they have to meet.” Those standards are Tinker or Hazelwood.



Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine   Establishing your student media as open forums for student expression – not closed or limited forums – can make a huge difference in developing a cure of Hazelwood. The best forum is like preventative medicine. The worst is like being exposed to active disease cultures.



Rethinking your forum status – why the correct wording is essential   With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals on the 2nd Circuit’s Ithaca decision, student media advisers and their journalists should be aware of a potential conflict over how they use the word “forum.” In short, if an editorial policy is going to say student media are forums, students and advisers must be able to explain what that means and why it is educationally important.


Re-establishing our belief in the right forum   Just because the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court recently handed down a decision inR.O. v. Ithaca City School Districtladen with shaky interpretations and references, it is not time to surrender or alter our beliefs.


Maybe #Firstonthefirst initiative can help move the needle   Make a commitment to talk to strangers about the First Amendment. A few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference.


“Drawings of stick figures in sexual positions clearly qualify as ‘lewd,’ that is, ‘inciting to sensual desire or imagination,’” Second Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision about why the school could censor an independent student publication and the school’s student paper, which had attempted unsuccessfully to run the drawing in the first place.


Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism, status as an open public forum   This post looks at a circuit court decision that explains public forum possibilities and values. Also link to Why Dean v. Utica is important.


Letters and commentary can enhance public forum role  Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them. Also,accepting guest commentaries, offered randomly, reinforces student media’s role as a public forum for student expression. This would not include the creation of stranding guest columns for administrations, faculty or other school or city officials.


Don’t let ‘funny things’ happen on the way to your forum   Many scholastic media outlets appear to come up short when developing and posting an editorial policy.  It appears that common practices are to:

  • Just call a publication “a forum.”
  • Call it an open forum.
  • Call it a limited-open forum.

Or if all else fails,

  • Not have a policy at all


Hazelwood’s costs: Open forum status helps win court case, then striped, not returned  Hazelwood stories: by Kevin Smyth “When I joined JagWirein September 2007 as a 51-year old adviser with no advising background, and limited experience as a student journalist, I had no idea I’d become a poster boy for “things that can go wrong your first year as adviser.’ It’s been a difficult story.”



Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review   Even though its current open forum policy helped it avoid a lawsuit earlier this year, the Seattle School District seems determined to change course and install prior review, making the adviser responsible for all content and the administrators able to review at will.



Eliminating prior review  A conversation focused on learning rather than “press rights” may help administrators do away with prior review when students and teachers outline the benefits of student expression that come from critical thinking and problem solving.


SPLC resources:



Other resources:



JEA law/ethics curriculum:



Related Content       | Mission | Policy | Staff manual | Prior review | Prior restraint |  Censorship |


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Ethical guidelines suggest
best practices for your student media

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Ethical guidelines

What is it/definition: Ethical guidelines in journalism help guide students to make good decisions and the think critically. Because there is no right or wrong, students become ethically fit by making decisions without review, by examining possible decisions and projecting effects of their decisions. Being ethically fit also means preparing ethical decision making that relies more on “green light” rather than ”red light” process and guidelines.


Important items of note

The “green light” principles encourages students to go after their story with approaches thought out and dangers identified. A “red light” approach would argue the risk outweighs the value and possible avoidance of the story. Products of this decision making are codes of ethics and long-term ethical guidelines and staff manual procedures presented in this section.


Guideline: Develop  ethical guidelines and staff procedures rooted in ethical thinking and acting that carry  out student media’s journalistic mission, policy and the journalistic, social and civic responsibilities they create.


Procedure: Develop a working code of ethics to help student staffers and media audiences better understand and practice ethical decision-making that contribute to the highest standards of journalism.


Quick Tip:

A strong and effective staff manual describes the procedures of the staff in accordance with best policies and specific ethical guidelines. Because a staff manual should be a collaborative creation between students and advisers, it also becomes a living document, changing as necessary to reflect the culture and practices of the staff.


Each year staff members should have the opportunity — and obligation — to update items to ensure the product serves their needs and those of their audiences.


A good staff manual creates an atmosphere consistent with board- and media-level policies’ sound legal principles and uses ethical guidelines to shape procedure. Such a roadmap can help students justify content to administrators or introduce new staffers to common newsroom policies.

Quick Tips index   A list of nearly 70 journalism processes showing the interaction between every day journalistic processes and actions and ethical principles.


JEA Curriculum

Introducing Students to Takedown Requests

When the requests come – and they will come – for your student staff to take down materials already published either in print or online, what criteria will they use to make the decision – and why? Students will learn what takedown demands are, examine criteria needed to craft responses and develop guidelines for when a request occurs.


Making Informed Takedown Decisions

This is the second of three lessons related to takedown requests, and students will practice making informed decisions regarding takedown requests using case studies. This lesson should be used only after the lesson “Introducing Students to Takedown Requests.”


Crafting the Argument Against Prior Review and Censorship

Building the case against prior review and restraint: talking points to help start a discussion between advisers and administrators

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should

Another Way to Examine Ethics: Red Light, Green Light

Making TUFF Decisions

When Journalists Must Navigate Ethical Situations

Exploring the Issues with Anonymous Sources

With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility

The Importance of Dissenting Voices

When Journalists Err Ethically



Press Rights Minute: A  series of 60 second audio clips that introduce journalistic topics of importance, many of which deal with ethics.


SPRC blogs

Responsibility in scholastic media starts with accuracy, complete storyAdministrators may want student media that depicts the school in a positive light, that promotes good news and overlooks the negative.

Is this responsible journalism?

Advisers may want student media that reflects students’ technical proficiency such as mechanics, grammar and style. Little else matters.

Is this responsible journalism?


JEA Adviser Code of Ethics   Like students, advisers and teachers can have a journalism Code of Ethics.


The foundations of journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals   This is the core, 4-part set of principles, legal statements, guidelines and procedures used to set the tone, the standards and path to success of your student media, Mouse across the black area below “spectrum expression.” Double click on the numbers for information, rationale and models. You will link to the sitemapof numerous files.


Model for ethical guidelines, process   This model shows how to outline the process and procedures implementing the action. It would then become an essential part of student media’s staff manual. An example would be Adviser responsibilities.


A class activity to learn both law and ethicsAsk some teachers already in the classroom, ask their principals, and, while they would know it’s not all one word, they might be hard pressed to explain the difference between law and ethics.


Fake news is like a social disease; we need to treat more than its wounds   The spread of fake news is like a socially transmitted disease for which we now only treat the wounds, Kelly McBride, Vice President, The Poynter Institute, told those attending the Fake or Fact? at Kent State University. Simply defining fake news, McBride said, will not help the problem. Reaching students and young people through awareness and education will do more.


Fake News: Tools of Truth landing page   Given the importance of knowing how to deal with fake, deceptive and misleading information, we developed this set of lessons.


CJE test-takers need not fear law and ethics questions  Both the Certification and Scholastic Press Rights Committees agree — without a solid foundation in law and ethics, advisers can have the most well-written stories, appealing designs, innovation multimedia, but if a reporter plagiarizes or a photographer just downloads and publishes someone else’s copyrighted image, you’re going to have problems.


Crossing the line: student challenges public media ethicsWhen a television reporter crossed the line to get a story about a local high school’s security system that led to a school lockdown, a student journalist challenged the media’s ethics.


The rules of the journalistic road start with law and ethics   While students are infatuated and seemingly obsessed with online and social media, the essential fundamentals of journalism — including laws and ethics — need to, as “boring” as they may be, need to a dominant part of any education curriculum.


Help with crafting policies and ethical guidelines for student mediaOur interest in developing the project began when we found several instances when a school administrator in a potential censorship situation wanted to enforce — even punish — students for not following ethics statements because policy, ethics and staff manual points were all intermixed in a common document that the school administrator presumed he had the authority to enforce based on his interpretation.


Evaluating journalistic content: an ethics lesson  Using Vox-style coverage, students will compare and evaluate their content approaches with others and frame ways to improve their coverage approaches.


Online comments: Allow anyone to post, or monitor and approve first. An ethics lessonYour students are online and just published their first real controversial reporting. Comments, positive and negative, begin to pile up. How do students handle them?


How much information is enough for a story? An ethics lesson  What makes for good reporting? In print? Online?  Is the practice of “All you need to know about X” bad for journalism? In working on those questions, students will also work on formulating corrections for weak practices. They will also work toward forming defenses of stronger processes and policies. One way or another, students will decide the kind of policy they would develop to create an effective and credible news practice. This could involve guidelines or policy for the staff manual.


Taking your student media online:  Will students follow online news media?

An ethics lesson    What should you consider before taking your student media online? This lesson will examine areas students should explore prior to transitioning to online.


Is print dead? An ethics lesson   Can students read the Constitution in its original form (cursive)? What could this mean for paper consumption?


When law and ethics and good journalism combine  Editors of the Shakerite have class at 8 a.m., and they had a lot to discuss Sept. 11. Editor Shane McKeon and campus and city editor John Vodrey had the police report showing that what the principal, in his letter to parents, said was an assault had really been classified by the police as a rape.

Now what?

Not only did the staff have to decide how to cover the story but had to do so quickly. The deadline was now, not two weeks away. 

Part 3 of a three part series.   Part 2              Part 1


Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as a guide for punishment   Members of the student media and their advisers study and often adopt Codes of Ethics developed by professional media societies. But a distressing trend is emerging in our schools:  Administrators who demand that student journalists or media advisers be punished for perceived breaches of these codes.

My question is this: How can an ethics code logically be used as a tool for punishment when it is not possible to enforce such a code?


Ethics by any other name: Why process is more important than verbiage

Ethics is not as much a moving target as today’s media pundits might have us believe. Quite simply, ethics is a conscious effort, above all other motives, to do the right thing for our readers, subjects and the public’s right to know.  


Ethics workshops offers videos, lesson plans   When Kent State University and The Poynter Institute team up for their annual ethics workshop, they don’t forget high school journalism teachers and students. Keynoter — and the subject of one set of plans — was Jose Antonio Vargas, the opening speaker at the National High School Journalism convention in Los Angeles in the spring. Archived videos of his very personal and passionate talk about being an undocumented immigrant plus videos of all the other panels of the day are now available online.


Develop, follow code of ethics   No matter which media platform you use, ethics will play a daily role in your decision making. Rushworth Kidder in “How Good People Make Tough Choices” says ethics is a “right versus right” process.


‘Whad’ya know?’ New teachers should answer, ‘Law and ethics’   As Wisconsin Public Radio’s Michael Feldman asks each week, “Whad’ya  know?” Sadly, even some secondary school journalism teachers with proper credentials can answer, like Feldman’s audience, “Not much!”

At least that appears to be true when it comes to law and ethics.

And some teachers don’t know much because no one required them to learn much to get their jobs


Ethics in the eye of the storm  When Hurricane Sandy hit the United States early last week, citizens turned to Twitter for a constant stream of information. The hashtag #Sandy provided hundreds of live perspectives each minute, including photos of the impending storm and subsequent devastation.

For those covering the story live, the storm spawned an entirely new lexicon of descriptors (“Frankenstorm” among the most widely-used) and created an ethical dilemma all-too-common in today’s instant media environment: How to sort the fact from the fiction?


Common Core has room for law and ethics   Like so many things, it’s good news and bad news. The Common Core State Standardsactually may help us show how journalism has skillseveryone should know, but in the process could we be losing support to teach the very framework necessary to use our voices in democracy?

In other words, where does teaching law and ethics fit with the new standards?

Nowhere that’s obvious, that’s for sure, but maybe we can find niches that aren’t so apparent.


Visual guidelines join online, yearbook ethics   Because student media designers, photographers and illustrators also face ongoing ethical decisions, we are releasing a third set of ethical guidelines to aid your students as they play critical roles in the decision making process for your media.


Teaching ethics: Making it personal   I remember vividly the day my high school newspaper adviser called an emergency editor meeting.  Editors filed into the office, lunch bags in hand, and waited not-so patiently to hear what the fuss was all about.


The importance of context: A lesson on ethics and editing  In 2012, NBC officials bore the brunt of an outraged public when the Today Show played a poorly edited 9-1-1 tape from the Trayvon Martin shooting investigation.  The tape, some argued, unfairly portrayed Zimmerman as racist.  This lesson explores the ethics of proper editing as well as the journalistic mandate that context never be sacrificed for brevity.


OP/Ed writing with an ethics twist: An in-class lesson  This lesson was inspired by the recent Twitterfest regarding Kansas high school student Emma Sullivan’s tweet about the governor during a trip to the capital. The lesson will take 30+ minutes, and students will need their own paper and pencil. Here are some links for background information on the incident, which will come in handy toward the end of the lesson.


Yearbook ethics guidelines   The publication yearbooks create will serve as a record/history book, memory book, business venture, classroom laboratory and public relations tool for the district. Because the functions of the publication are so far reaching, and the publication itself is an historical document, the ethical questions facing the yearbook staff are challenging and unique.


Online ethics guidelines for student media   As student media staffs explore digital media to gather information, tell stories, promote their work and handle comments, they will encounter ethical questions both familiar and unique.


5 activities to consider before next fall   Looking for end-of-year activities to rebuild or revisit how your student media operate, the range and effectiveness of content, no matter the platform?

Consider the following, either now at the end of the year or during summer staff retreats, to help students strengthen your program’s foundation.


Pursuit of accurate information clearly part of scholastic journalism’smission   When a student journalist pursues a story and, as H.L. Hall would say, “digs” for information, most journalism educators would be pleased.

And so too, you think, would administrators.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s becoming more common for school czars to be rankled by a student’s dogged pursuit of information.


Celebration and grief: Parkland students embody importance of student      voices du ring Scholastic Journalism Week    Normally, Scholastic Journalism Week is about celebrating the hard work of student journalists around the country. JEA spotlights great student coverage, publications staffs wear journalism t-shirts and sweatshirts and show off their mastery of the First Amendment. We make videos to share the inner workings of student newsrooms and get our communities engaged and excited about that work.

But this Scholastic Journalism Week, as our nation reeled from yet another horrific school shooting, the last thing on the minds of student journalists at Stoneman Douglas High School was celebration.


Second day concerns   It’s not the first day of school that has me worried. It’s the second.

St. Louis Park’s first day involves some get-to-know-you activity, but we start content on the second. And this is why I’m worried.With the summer of fake news and recent news of the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, I want my students to understand why what they do is so important.

So, on the second day, we will revisit our mission statement.

No   license, no car   Why is it important to start with the fundamental press law and ethics? Equate it to driver’s education – you don’t get the keys to the car and go on the road until you know the rules of the road. While Tinker and Hazelwood are not the foundation of press law, when it comes to scholastic journalism, they are an essential part of the foundation. All journalists should know the basics of media ethics and law before they go on an interview, take a picture or start recording video.


They need the freedom to make mistakes, too    Scholastic press freedom is a big responsibility, and true freedom comes when young journalists aren’t just free to do great journalism but also are free to make journalistic mistakes and learn from them. As teachers and advisers, we work hard to teach our student journalists the principles, skills and ethics they need while fostering their abilities to problem solve and communicate.


JEA is proud to sign statement in support of freedom of the press   As organizations committed to the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and the press, we are alarmed by the efforts of the President and his administration to demonize and marginalize the media and to undermine their ability to inform the public about official actions and policies.


Enemy of the American people   Never before in American history, or the history of American journalism, has the media and the First Amendment come under such ridicule and hatred by a sitting president. Instead of being dubbed “watchdogs” who protect the public’s right to know, mainstream journalists have been labeled “the enemy of the American People.”


Our tasks for the future: Building a Tool Kit of trust, integrity   Trust. Trust in sources, information, journalists. Trust in audiences. Trust in education. Ways to help student journalistsand their audience fight fake news and bad journalism begin in middle and high school, and especially in journalism programs.


Just this once: FSW 2   The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee released “The Speaker … A Film About Freedom” in 1977. The film, in its original form, comes with a discussion guide. Today, the websitefor it has the discussion guide and links to coverage about the film and other pertinent articles. Controversial in 1977, the film today hits at many current issues surrounding free speech. Note the date, 1977. Clothing and style reflect that timeframe. It might take students a while to get beyond that and into the First Amendment issues.


 Publishing satire   Satire can make for entertaining writing, however two major points should be considered when discussing the inclusion of satire: 1: Will readers get “it?” and 2: Even if readers do get “it,” are you walking a fine line with the type of content expected of your publication and that which isn’t necessarily journalistic?


Satire: Easy to confuse when used without context   Listening with a skeptical ear: A lesson on how to check out source accuracy and credibility.   Aw, satire. So fun and entertaining when done well. How many times have I been taken aback for a second by an Onion headline? More than I care to share! Satire can be very powerful when done with purpose, but satire for the sake of satire often falls flat


Listening with a skeptical ear: A lesson on how to check out source accuracy and credibility   Student journalists must able to separate valid from questionable information and know how to determine if sources and their messages are credible.


Limits to taking a stance in front page design?   Was it OK for student newspaper to Rainbow Filter its Twitter profile pic? Student journalists have always been taught standards of objectivity. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage led at least one publication, The Daily Evergreen of University of Washington, to make a statement in its nameplate.


Should news media neglect events or people?   During the last presidential election, the Huffington Post announced it would only report Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination for president on the entertainment pages.Historically, many would argue this decision runs counter to the journalistic concept of objectivity. Others argue journalism’s changing roles and thinking of what is news preclude “events” simply designed for attention, without substance. Although it later changed its mind, the paper brought up a new issue: the right to be unknown and media’s right to ignore.


User-generated content   Journalists should treat user-generated content the same as any content they create in terms of accuracy, verification, credibility, reliability and usability.


Letters to the editor and online comments   Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well.


Linking to sources   To increase a publications’ transparency, students should clearly show links to sources used in reporting in a consistent process. Providing links to sources creates a sense of credibility and thoroughness in the reporting process.


Social media use   Journalists should hold to the same ethical standards and guidelines for their use of social media as they do for print or broadcast. The goal is consistent, responsible creation and distribution of student-created journalism.


Use of profanity   Profanity in student media should only be used after careful consideration. While profanity is not illegal, journalists should ask whether the use of profanity is absolutely essential to the content and context of the story. Will readers understand the story if the profanity is not used? Some people will not read or listen past any profanity. Students should consider other ways to indicate whether a profanity is intended without actually spelling it out (e.g. using asterisks or other symbols).


The role of student media  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.


Balance and objectivity   Journalists should prioritize balance and objectivity as a staff philosophy and content standard. Staff members can help achieve this by increasing staff diversity and seeking multiple perspectives.


Staff conduct   Students participating in scholastic media should hold themselves to high standards to earn and preserve trust and respect from the audiences they serve. Lapses in judgment affect the staff as well as the credibility of the media they produce. Students should realize that discipline problems or poor choices extend beyond individual consequences.


Academic dishonesty   Students should be honest in all stages of their work. Dishonesty is a serious offense and should not be tolerated. Dishonesty compromises the integrity and credibility of the student publication. The editorial board and/or adviser should address any instance of academic misconduct immediately.


News judgment and news values   Student media should consistently and purposefully brainstorm what story ideas might be relevant and valuable to their audience. Students should not ignore those story ideas that might be sensitive or cause offense but instead should consider how to cover these issues in meaningful, sensitive ways.


Treatment of minors   All sources deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, but there are special legal and ethical situations that apply to minors. In general, minors are anyone under the state’s legal age of adulthood, usually 18.



SPLC resources:


Other resources:


Related Content: Foundation/ Staff Guidelines | Mission|  Policy | Staff Manual | Prior Review | Restraint | Censorship


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