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Forum status of student media

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


This online lesson guides students through the basics of forum status for student media and the specifics of how it applies to student media. A statement of forum status is an essential part of a staff manual.


  • Students will demonstrate understanding of forum theories for student media.
  • Students will compare and contrast the forum theory concepts with journalism principles, ethics and mission.
  • Students will discuss and select a forum theory statement to pair with their mission, editorial policy and ethics statements.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 11-12 here.)


Based on individual needs

Materials / resources

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not

Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine

Forum status of student media

Resources for teacher background

Model guidelines for policy choices

Easy access to policy models

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?
Student media policy may be the most important decision you make

Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language

Introducing a staff manual package to build a foundation for journalistic responsibility

Edit policy sets forum status

Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as guide for punishment

How to use this guide for ethical use of staff manuals

Model for ethical guidelines

Takedown demands

Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism status as an open public forum

Talking points on prior review and restraint

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?

Prior review v. prior restraint

Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

Guidelines, recommendations for advisers facing prior review

JEA defines prior review

Lesson step-by-step

Presentation – Day 1

The teacher will share this link with students. Students will have read this before class time. The teacher will also share this information:

• In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever for student journalists and their advisers to know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression. 

The language of those policies (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

Three types of forums are open public, limited public and closed.

• A 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

• A limited public 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 decision

 • Tinker applies if no prior review.

• An open public (designated) 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.

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.

 Activity 1

Students will decide which of the following statements they would prefer for their student run media (keeping in mind the various platforms of print, broadcast, yearbook and digital should be under the same policies and their staff manual reflect that), and why they made that choice. 

Students will write their choice on the discussion board Student Media Forum Statement the teacher created. Students should choose the forum carefully and refer to it in the policy section of your staff manual. It might also play a role in development of Mission statement.

Statement 1: All school-sponsored student publications and productions are XXXXXXX forums.  While students may address matters of interest or concern to their readers/viewers, as XXXXXXX forums, the style and content of the student publications and productions can be regulated for legitimate pedagogical, school-related reasons.  School officials shall routinely and systematically review and, if necessary, restrict the style and/or content of all school-sponsored student publications and productions prior to publication/performance in a reasonable manner that is neutral as to the viewpoint of the speaker.  Legitimate pedagogical concerns are not confined to academic issues but include the teaching by example of the shared values of a civilized social order, which consists of not only independence of thought and frankness of expression but also discipline, courtesy/civility, and respect for authority.  School officials may further prohibit speech that is grammatically incorrect, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.

Statement 2: [NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review by school officials.

Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental values in a democratic society. The mission of any institution committed to preparing productive citizens must include teaching these values and providing a venue for students to practice these values, both by lesson and by example.

As preservers of democracy, our schools shall protect, encourage and enhance free speech and the exchange of ideas as a means of protecting our American way of life. (This choice can be supported with other students that enhance or explain the position)

Statement 3: The Board designates all school-sponsored student media, with the exception of those originating from classrooms or educational settings not otherwise directly associated with student publications and productions, as XXXXXXX forums whereby students can address matters of concern and/or interest to their readers/viewers. (Under this policy student journalists, content-creators and/or performers involved in these publications/productions have the right/or do not have the right to determine the content of the student media. Social media could be blocked/not blocked, depending on board decision) 

Activity 2

After students have chosen and sent their statements to the teacher, the teacher can distribute this information to students Or, save it for another lesson, say on what goes into a policy statement and what does not:

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 use their answer as the focus for a short position paper:

            • In no more than 150 words, craft a position statement why their choice would be best for all their audiences. Submit to the teacher for comment and further use.

Read More

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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Social media that works
in high school newsrooms QT33

Posted by on Nov 27, 2017 in Blog, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


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.”

Not accessing Twitter in the newsroom? It’s laughable now. Yet for some high school newsrooms, this is still the case. Overzealous school policies banning the use of various forms of social media and cell phones at school cripple student journalists who need to learn these tools in order to survive and thrive in our new media world.

However, setting students loose with social media journalism without strong guidelines is just as problematic. Just as professional news producers such as NPR have developed thorough social media policies, advisers should work with their student edition board to develop a robust social media policy for their own publications.

A place to start when tackling this task is to look to professional models like NPR’s. This recap of a 2014 panel about the ethics of social media news is another good resource. For scholastic guidance, check out JEA/SPRC’s foundation materials or this 2012 Social Media Toolbox masters project — though a bit dated, it still contains some great lessons and ideas. For help convincing administration of the value of social media in the newsroom, Quill & Scroll’s Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism has a strong rationale and additional resources.

As you develop your guidelines, however, it’s important to consider both sides of social media journalism: not only how to use it as a tool to share information or report a breaking story, but also how to use it as a reporter seeking information — the importance of verification so not to spread misinformation. For this second part of the equation, the Columbia Journalism Review’s “Best Practices for Social Media Verification” and the Online News Association’s Social Newsgathering Ethics Code are good places to start.

Our student journalists deserve to use the same tools as the professionals, but they also need the same caliber of ethics and responsible practices to guide them. These guidelines must be specific, yet flexible, as social media platforms are constantly evolving. With guidance for how to post to social media as a journalist and how to use it as a reporting tool, students will be uniquely poised to take new media journalism to places we can’t yet even imagine.


Journalists should hold to the same ethical standards and guidelines for their use of social media as they do for print or broadcast. Editors should devise a social media guide with clear expectations and make sure all staff members are trained in the procedures before providing username and password information for shared social media accounts.

Social Media Post:

How can students use social media effectively in high school newsrooms?


Social media has become a critical part of commercial journalism: adult reporters use social media both as a reporting tool and as a news source. Student reporters should also use social media to distribute and research news, but they — like adults — need clear guidelines for its use.

Student journalists should hold their social media posts to the same standards as print, digital or broadcast news. Examining commercial social media policies and these JEA/SPRC guidelines will provide a foundation for editors to develop their own publication policy. Student reporters also need strategies for verifying information gathered from social media posts. The Columbia Journalism Review’s “Best Practices for Social Media Verification” includes tips from experts to help students use these sources.


JEA/SPRC Social Media Use, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

NPR ethics handbook: social media, NPR

SXSWi 2014: Accurate, Fair & Safe: The Ethics of Social News, Storify

Social media toolbox, Hendrix Project

The value of using social media in journalism, Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism

Best practices for social media verification, Columbia Journalism Review

ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, Online News Association


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Ethical guidelines for monitoring yearbook coverage QT29

Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


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.

Putting the yearbook together is hard work, but the yearbook staff must avoid every temptation to cut corners and only take pictures of their friends, the first person they see in the hallway or the most high profile athlete, musician or student. Develop a system with a live index so you can track in real time how many times each individual has been in the yearbook and seek out underrepresented students and avoid over represented students.

Create an ethical guideline for how many times is too many times to be in the yearbook and find ways to target students who are underrepresented for your topical ro feature coverage. For example, when you ask a question for a sidebar in your sophomore section portraits, use that as an opportunity to find an underrepresented student. When you are covering the science experiment, take pictures of the student who is not the student government president.

When you gather quotes for these elements of the book, have students write them down and hand them to you on a piece of paper so that you can ensure accuracy. These quotes could then be archived with the other quotes for the page. This way you can ensure that the answer they give you is the answer that shows up in the yearbook.


The yearbook will ensure that each student can see himself or herself represented in the publication in a fair, equitable and accurate manner.

Social media post/question:

What are your ethical guidelines for choosing subjects for the yearbook?


Work with your staff early to develop goals and guidelines for the year to help you ensure accurate and equitable coverage.


Putting the yearbook together is hard work, but the yearbook staff must avoid every temptation to cut corners and only take pictures of their friends, the first person they see in the hallway or the most high profile athlete, musician or student.

Students are the consumers of the book, and yearbook staffs are producing an historical document, which must include an accurate and complete picture of the student body for that year, regardless of who buys the book. Staffs must work early to establish their ethical guidelines for how they choose coverage, how they monitor who has been included and how they decide which students get selected for coverage.

Resources: Yearbook ethics guidelines, SPRC



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Student media policy may be
the most important decision you make QT4

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



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.

Key thoughts/Action:  Possible guidelines (three options)

This reality does not preclude students from exercising their best ethical judgment. Rather, it is an incentive for them to advocate for their role and for district-level policy that protects student journalists.

Possible policy 1:

[NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review by school officials.

Comment: This contains only the basic statement of journalistic responsibility. It is usable at the board level to outline the basic principles of external oversight, leaving the process to other internal packages, like ethics guidelines and staff manuals. This removes from consideration the possibility of board attempts to change process-oriented direction.

A short statement like this clearly establishes the principles and responsibilities that guide all other statements. With no prior review added to it, it has the three crucial points in a policy: (1) designated public forum status in which (2) students make all final decisions regarding content and (3) do so without prior review. Decisions on matters such as letters, bylines, staff disciplinary actions, coverage of death and more are best detailed in ethical guidelines and staff manuals.

Possible policy 2:

[NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review from school officials.

Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental values in a democratic society.

The mission of any institution committed to preparing productive citizens must include teaching these values and providing a venue for students to practice these values, both by lesson and by example.

As preservers of democracy, our schools shall protect, encourage and enhance free speech and the exchange of ideas as a means of protecting our American way of life.

[NAME OF MEDIA] and its staff are protected by and bound to the principles of the First Amendment and other protections and limitations afforded by the Constitution and the various laws and court decisions implementing those principles.

Comment: Again, this board-level model policy removes process details from being points of board action or meddling. It also introduces educational and philosophical language to give administrators insight into and understanding of why student media do what they do. It can aid in community understanding and support of the forum process.

This policy is slightly longer because it adds philosophical wording to support the decision-making without review. This policy could be effective at the board level because it allows others points to be explained in the ethics guidelines and staff manuals.

Possible policy 3:

Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental values in a democratic society.

The mission of any institution committed to preparing productive citizens must include teaching students these values, both by lesson and by example.

For these purposes, as well as to teach students responsibility by empowering them to make and defend their own decisions, school-sponsored student news media, print or online, at

[NAME OF SCHOOL] are established as designated public forums for student expression in which students make all final decisions of content.

Such news media will not be reviewed by school officials outside the adviser in his/her coaching role or restrained by school officials prior to, during, or after publication or distribution.

Therefore, material published in school-sponsored news media may not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the [NAME OF SCHOOL] District, and neither school officials nor the school are legally responsible for their content.

Students are protected by and bound to the principles of the First Amendment and other protections and limitations afforded by the U.S. Constitution and the various court decisions reaffirming those principles.

Comment: This is the same as model two but also includes a statement that student media do not intend to reflect the opinions of school authorities. Like model two, this model addresses the educational value of student media and attaches these issues to legal language. The three essential points made in earlier models appear here as well.

For any free expression policy:

Designated forum: This language (designated forum in policy or practice) should be included in policies at board or publication level because all public forums are designated either by action or inaction (unless the board clearly says otherwise). Being silent as students operate as a forum is really permitting a designated forum.

Social media post/question: Student media policy may be the most important decision you make. What should your student media policy contain?


The staff manual may include copies of the school board media policy along with publication-level media policy. Furthermore, the staff manual may provide procedures for students to address school administration in the case of a disagreement or policy issue. Students should consider including in the staff manual guidelines for proposing policy changes to the school board or petitioning the district (e.g., How does a student request to be put on the agenda for a school board meeting?).


  • Obtain a copy of the school district’s media or student expression policy.
  • Compare district policy to your publication-level policy and identify potential areas for misunderstanding or conflict (e.g., the district policy is more restrictive of student speech/press).
  • Make a plan to advocate change in the district’s policy that would align it more closely with how the staff actually operates, and why.
  • Student editors should recognize that they, not the adviser, are best suited to advocate their role. Advisers must navigate a difficult line as employee and should not be put in a position to defend student work.
  • Consider advocating for a state law that would protect student free expression rights.


Lesson: Developing a Presentation for Your School Board, Journalism Education Association

The Foundation of journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals JEA SPRC

Rethinking Your Forum Status, JEA SPRC

What Do I Do When I’m Censored?, Student Press Law Center

Model Guidelines for High School Student Media, Student Press Law Center

Model Legislation to Protect Student Free Expression Rights, Student Press Law Center



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