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When is free speech not so free?

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Just because legislation or mandates say they protect and promote student voices and student thought, doesn’t necessarily mean they do.

by Candace Bowen, MJE
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

That may be a cliché, but it’s often spot on. And no more so than news lately of various orders and state legislation and school policies seeming to promote free speech. That’s a great idea, right?

Well, maybe not.

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The next Woodward and Bernstein
may be in your journalism class now

Posted by on Nov 4, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

Some say the next wave of great investigative journalists may be getting inspired now. Do you have a Pulitzer winner on YOUR staff? Are you teaching someone who could investigate the next Watergate break-in? What can you do to encourage him or her?

Sure, plenty of problems face today’s reporters: financial challenges for traditional newspapers, less-than-impressive wages, an attitude at the highest level of government that says media are the enemy, sometimes even threats of jail.

But Margaret Sullivan in the Fall 2017 Columbia Journalism Review had some good insight in her “Trump and the Watergate effect: Will young journalists still be inspired by today’s watchdog reporting?”

She remembers watching the Watergate hearings on tv as a child and realizing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein made this all happen. “What these journalists did offered not only an important mission, but a gritty, roll-up-your-sleeves glamour. So, thanks to Watergate, Woodstein and Deep Throat, I was launched. And so were a generation of baby-boomer journalists—thousands of us. Some were in college in the mid ’70s. Others, like me, were in high school, or even younger.”

[pullquote]Will the reporters who are covering the Trump era — which, in some ways, is like the Nixon era with a special prosecutor, investigations into corruption and talk of possible impeachment — inspire today’s high school and college students to go into this career that can have a huge impact?[/pullquote]

In today’s world of fake news, of chants to lock up journalists and of an attorney general who appears willing to prosecute those involved in leaks, is there still a calling?

Will the reporters who are covering the Trump era — which, in some ways, is like the Nixon era with a special prosecutor, investigations into corruption and talk of possible impeachment — inspire today’s high school and college students to go into this career that can have a huge impact?

How do we help recruit the best and the brightest to make a difference for us all?

First, we need to refute some of the arguments against a journalism career. Sure, some newspapers are struggling and cutting staff, but some are not, and, more important, newspapers are not the only venue even for investigative journalists.

The Pew Research Center reports, “In the U.S., roughly nine-in-ten adults (93 percent) get news online (either via mobile or desktop), and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, ‘born on the web’ news outlets.”

Exposés don’t have to appear only in the New York Times. According to The Guardian, blogs have revealed everything from contaminated dog food to a reduced number of U.S. attorneys. Good journalists can be there, too.

Then we have to convince students what those following the Watergate era knew: They CAN make a difference. The watchdog role of the media is still vital in a democracy, and, without it, we’ve lost the foundation of our government.

What do today’s college students think?

Ben Orner, senior journalism major at Kent State University, said his high school interest in covering sports grew when he reached college. “I was able to make the connections between my news consumption, what I was learning in classes and how this could have an impact.”

He said he can see how journalism makes a difference. “Whether it’s big like Watergate or like corruption in the local city council,” he said he sees how journalists have make a difference.

“The ‘Trump Era’ inspires young journalists to hold their leaders accountable,” he said.

Kent State sophomore broadcast major Gretchen Lasso said she thinks the recent political climate has made her a more vocal journalist. She acknowledges when she arrived on campus she was not a very critical media consumer. “Now I’m better able to analyze news and decide if it’s credible.”

She said criticism of the media has made her “work harder to verify my own sources” and be a better journalist in the future.

Who knows if Ben and Gretchen will be future Woodwards and Bernsteins, but today’s media climate has served to challenge and inspire them. Could that happen to students in high school now?

Our democracy needs watchdogs who are willing to consider low pay and taunts from some crowds as the price to pay for a better democracy.





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Tips for training ethical reporters

Posted by on Aug 26, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

What’s the best advice you can give your beginning reporters? What’s going to help them enjoy what they are doing because they’re doing it well?

Columbia Journalism Review had an outstanding article in mid-August by Adeshina Emmanuel and Justin Ray. “Top journalists reveal the best reporting advice they have received,”  which covers a wide range of suggestions from keeping lists for future story ideas to starting at a small news outlet so you can make your mistakes there. (Maybe that applies to student media, too?)

But to me the best suggestions are those that warn young reporters not to have preconceived notions when they start to write an article. It’s hard to get at the truth that way.

An exchange with student reporters that always raises my hackles:

Me: How’s your story coming?

Cub reporter: I just need one more quote.

No! She may need a quote to show an expert view or make the article more lively, but the thing she really needs is more information – and not necessarily when she thinks she should go out and get.

In the CJR article, The Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan says she’s not sure where she learned this – maybe “Reporting 101,” but she still finds it helpful. “Report against your own biases. That is, include the reporting that has a chance of proving you wrong, not just confirming what you already think or think that you know. At the very least, this will allow you to know in advance what the objections to a story might be. It tends to make reporting more fair—and more bulletproof.”

The underlining is mine because this may be the most important lesson to learn about ethical journalism. Any reporter who approaches a story convinced about what he or she will find is going to miss the real story out there. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds can be so sure what’s right and wrong, real and false, they make assumptions that destroy their reporting.

So, the most important thing they need to learn is probably not AP Style or where to put the commas – it’s starting out with an open mind that will allow them to find and write the truth.


Note: Another CJR article full of good suggestions and a link in this same CJR piece is “Eight simple rules for accurate journalism,” by Craig Silverman, written in 2011 but very true still today.

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Principals, presidents and getting along

Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE

The Washington Post headline asked, “Is media coverage of Trump too negative? You’re asking the wrong question.”

That’s when I realized this could much more than a political statement. What if you replace the president’s name with the name of your school? Does that sound like something you may have heard before?

Student media often receive the complaint: “Your stories are all negative. Good things happen at this school, so why don’t you report them?” But are your administrators maybe asking the wrong question, too?

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at The Washington Post, said President Trump was like Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” She cited a Harvard study that looked at news reports in print (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post), main newscasts (CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC) and three European news outlets (The UK’s Financial Times and BBC, and Germany’s ARD). From these, the researchers concluded in Trump’s first 100 days about 80 percent of mainstream press coverage reflected negatively on the new president.

But the president of the United States and the principal of any public high school should not be enemies of their respective media. Sullivan said what politicians should look for in coverage – and I maintain this is true for school administrators, too – is “fairness, focus and overkill.”

  • Sullivan asks if news organizations “acknowledge and correct quickly” when they get something wrong. My question: Do student media? Admittedly sometimes things are wrong because someone didn’t answer a student journalist’s questions, but that might be a good starting point for discussion on the importance of communication. If student reporters have the facts, their stories are vastly better.
  • She further asks if journalists allow the president and his administration to respond to criticism. My question: Do YOUR reporters ask for responses, especially when the administrators are upset? That’s hard sometimes, but it’s another important part of communication. A consistent, ongoing dialogue is much better than seeing each other only when some problem arises.
  • Finally, Sullivan writes, “Do news sites give serious, sustained attention to policy issues as well as publishing innumerable hot takes about the ­personality-driven dust-up of the moment?” I’m not so sure student media have “hot takes” that are “personality driven,” but I’ll bet most staffs would admit they may not be digging into policy issues like they could. If students are complaining about cafeteria food, what have they explored and reported about current cost increases of everyday staples, lack of government foodstuffs that used to be available, higher salaries for kitchen personnel due to union issues? In other words, complaints usually have costs or explanations. That costly Astroturf may have come from a generous donor, not funds that could go for textbooks. The guidance counselor who took so long to send a letter of recommendation to colleges might have twice as many advisees as the American School Counselor Association says. Digging deeper would show that.

The president and commercial media will have to sort things out on their own. Making sure both administrators and student journalists know the questions to ask – and the answers to have – is up to us and could go a long way toward eliminating problems.

Want lesson plans about fake news, misinformation or sourcing challenges? Curriculum will be available from JEA by the time you start back to school.

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New Voices: Learning the lessons

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE
There’s good news . . . and then there’s news when it comes to New Voices bills to protect student journalists.

First, the exciting part. Chris Evans, from the University of Vermont and chairman of College Media Association’s First Amendment Advocacy, posted Friday, May 5 on the New Voices USA Facebook page: “Today, Vermont’s New Voices legislation passed BOTH the Senate and House of Representatives. Student free-speech activism FTW!”

And a win it is. As Frank LoMonte reported on the SPLC website, “After months of back-and-forth, student press protections are on their way to the governor’s desk in Vermont.”

The article explains that this was part of “an omnibus education bill” and will now move to Gov. Phil Scott, “who is expected to sign it into law,” reports.

The fourth New Voices bill to get this far since North Dakota started the momentum in 2015, Vermont’s law would give protection to student journalists in K-12 schools and public colleges plus protection to faculty advisers who refuse to censor the legally protected work of their students.

But the other news demonstrates some of the challenges for those attempting to pass similar legislation in their states. Nevada and Michigan both have active bills at the time, but for varied reasons, they are still in process.

Patrick File, a media law professor at University of Nevada, Reno and former SPLC intern, said the way Nevada’s legislature operates creates a couple of challenges. First, the Senate and Assembly meet only every other year. “It’s an absolute sprint for 120 days from February to June,” File said.

File worked with LoMonte, plus a UNLV associate professor, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association and an attorney from the SPLC attorney network to find Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, who was willing and able to sponsor the bill.

File found support from high school advisers in both Reno and Las Vegas. Casandra Workman, CJE, spoke at a Senate committee hearing in Las Vegas, where she teaches, to “address some of the concerns” that had come up. Liz Walsh, MJE from Reno, wrote testimony and Christy Briggs, MJE, also from Reno, took students to the Senate session..

Senate Bill 420 was drafted, as all Nevada’s bills are, by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, a group of lawyers working for the legislators. Although the original bill had been patterned after the successful one in Maryland, the LCB later added amendments its members thought would improve the bill.

Not so, said File and others. Included was language that essentially requires prior review and a disciplinary process for students and advisers (but not administrators) who would prohibit free press.

As of Monday, May 8, File indicated some confidence that LCB would remove the problematic amendments, and the bill could go to the Assembly.

“My takeaway,“ File said, “is the need to be the eyes and ears of the sponsor, who’s not always as knowledgeable about student media and has 20 or 30 bills to follow, but we only have one. We have to stay on top of the language.”

Jeremy Steele, Michigan Interscholastic Press Association executive director, said, “A lot things can happen during the legislative process, and every New Voices campaign will be thrown at least one curve ball. Expect a surprise. Plan for it as best you can.”

That state currently has a bill in the House, sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Darrin Camilleri, a former high school social studies teacher, “so this bill speaks to issues that he’s passionate about,” Steele said.

The challenge here? Republicans far outnumber Democrats in the Michigan House, 100 to 63.

But Steele and those in Michigan working on New Voices say they appreciate Camilleri’s interest and “look forward to finding ways to work with him.”

Meanwhile, Steele said they have a good record from last year with bipartisan support in the Senate. The previous sponsor, Sen. Rick Jones, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now working with them on a new version of the bill to “address many of the concerns we heard from stakeholders last session,” Steele said.

Sharing lessons learned like these seems to be one thing that’s helping current legislation move forward. Steve Listopad, then from North Dakota and the driving force between the first New Voices legislation, maintains a website that also contains helpful content from the SPLC.

Other useful tips come in videos from a November 2016 symposium hosted by Kent State University’s Center for Scholastic Journalism. Student media advisers at both the high school and college levels, scholastic press association leaders, lobbyists and others concerned with student voices from 17 states and the District of Columbia, participated. Videos captured all the panels, including one sponsored in part by JEA: “Part 6: Getting Advisers/Students/Scholastic Press Associations Engaged.”


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