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A new way to look at a new year


Let’s start the new year with with some positive thoughts. A model of sorts should your and your students ever face the prospect of prior review or censorship. Some advice to heed from students who faced it.

And won.

In this series of blogs, we will outline concepts other student journalists and advisers can consider if they, too, face such a fight.

Henry Rome, JEA’s 2009 High School Journalist of the Year, and Seth Zweifler, current EIC of the Spoke of Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania fought back last year when administrators threatened prior review because of articles the staff had published during the year. Their fight can be documented on the students’ site, in coverage and through the SPLC.

What helped them fight through this, Rome said, was knowing they were right and working with others who supported them, and looking to the future.

“In the end,” Rome said, “the younger reporters and editors I have gotten to know so well deserve the same opportunities I’ve had to write and report. That is simply the bottom line. Student journalists deserve to be able to spend months upon months investigating stories and controversial issues. Student journalists deserve to learn how to manage a large group of people toward a common goal. Student journalists deserve the opportunity to serve their school. Indeed, they deserve the opportunity to serve their democracy.”

One thing Rome stressed was that the community reminded them of a fundamental point: The community deserves to be informed and censorship or review would compromise that information.

“The Spoke is not  a public relations tool of the school district, and the community has a tremendous respect for our role in tackling difficult issues,” Rome said. “In the end, we realized that we were not just fighting to allow future staffs to write and report. We were fighting for the right of the community to be informed. And it is only through an informed populous that you can have a true democracy.”

To help maintain this flow of information and to keep your efforts in fighting for press freedom, Rome stressed the importance of the Web site, but also the following:

• First, know why you are fighting. Talk with your parents, friends in government. Alumni of the staff and of the school.
• Understand the fight will be long and draining. Team with others who know why the fight is important. The Student Press Law Center. Area press and/or university officials.
• Know this is a fight you simply have to wage.
• Fight to report the truth of events in your media.
• Know your stuff before you go face-to-face with the district or the media. Be prepared. Anticipate responses.

“Get as much input as you can,” Rome said, “and you’ll find that folks, whether they have a background in student journalism or not, strongly and passionately understand its value in society.”

Rome said before they began talking with district officials students armed themselves with the facts.  Because they had reported on and investigated real issues in a professional way, they recognized the critical importance how to stand up for their rights.

“Just like in a news story, you’re nowhere without your facts,” Rome said. “I think that’s something special about journalists that enabled us to wage our campaign.

Just as flowery or sensational language doesn’t make a good article, it won’t make a good argument either. Know your facts and make forceful and reasoned arguments.”

Where a traditional fight against censorship isn’t working, Rome said, fight for your paper and for your community.

“Fight for this year, fight for next,” Rome said. “Fight for all those younger students excited about joining the paper. Fight for every student and parent in the district who deserve to be informed.”

Rome said that kept him going when things got tough was one from Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

“We feel like we did what we had to do,” Rome said, “what we thought was right. And that’s all that you can do.”

Next: More on setting up the fight and why it is not the adviser’s fight.

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