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Hate speech and its protection

Posted by on Sep 19, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Cyndi Hyatt

This fall’s upcoming presidential election has created a national climate where people are politically polarized, and their speech is often incendiary.  Perhaps now is the perfect time to revisit with student journalists how speech is protected and unprotected, particularly with a focus on hate speech. 

My own students alerted me that hate speech is often misunderstood when they wanted to write an opinion piece calling for the ban of the KKK.  Naturally the topic of protected speech came up and led to a discussion on how even when speech is hateful, it is still protected under the Constitution.

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Essential to find accurate information is … context

Posted by on Sep 13, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE

The 2020 election looms less than two months away, and conflicting, sensational and hateful information force themselves into the news, the rallies and, sadly, people’s fears. Looking for information to help protect your reporters and audience alike from mis- and dis- information? We have some suggestions:

First, lessons and activities that already reside on SPRC’s site but for whatever reason have slipped off the top levels of our site. They offer a myriad of ways to offer some clarity to this whole year of political obfuscation and outrageous claims:

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Press rights are concept deserving every. day. practice

Posted by on Sep 6, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller, MJE

It’s a scene that has played out many times. An administrator prior reviews a publication. Adviser and staff bring the situation to light by contacting the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee (SPRC) and other organizations.

Before long, the situation ebbs – resolved or not – and life goes on.

Students who can name one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment earn an appropriate t-shirt from Mary Beth and John Tinker. Represented on stage were Florida, Texas and Iowa. (photo by Candace Bowen)

Which is a problem. The assault on journalism continues at all levels. Advisers and student journalists at the scholastic level need to continue their vigilance on a regular basis to maintain a free and responsible student media.

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Be proactive in educating your school administrators about student press rights

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


by Mitch Ziegler, MJE

On a newspaper deadline night I was reading a story about a student’s trip to Jordan and the West Bank, which focused on her strong criticisms about how her family was treated by the Israelis who ran the border crossing. It was an opinion piece, which argued solely through description.

Like all strong opinions, there were definitely counter-arguments in my mind, which we discussed. After suggesting a few minor edits, we printed the story essentially unchanged.

Because we are in California, a state with strong First Amendment protections for student journalists, it’s how I operate: according to the law and my belief in student free speech.

As I sent the PDF to the printer, my inner voice said, “you are going to be hit hard on this one.” 

And I was, by the Jewish community in Redondo Beach, of which I am a member. There were meetings, and angry letters to the school board, district administration, school administration, and me. 

The one side I had no worries about, however, was my school and district.

The key is to foster relationships and instruct administration in the law. When controversy occurs, this can prevent or slow administrator’s responses, which sometimes is all you need. 

Early in my career I learned it was important to be in contact with administrators about publications, and to provide training in student press rights. About a year before the above incident, I met with the admin team to talk about student press rights and why the laws were a help to them. During that meeting a new assistant principal actually took notes!

I pointed out how the law protects them from liability, unless they decide to interfere with student speech. It was pretty easy to discuss the California Education Code with them, which is pretty clear and which provides the strongest student press rights in the country.

Libel and obscenity were a quick discussion, while the discussion about disruption, which some misguided administrators love to cite, took a bit longer. 

I then went backward a bit, to show how press rights are a form of property rights. Stories in the newspaper and yearbook were one type, but I also decided to cite an example outside of content in publications, with a more general appeal: issues with senior panorama photos.

There had been an incident at another school where the principal had students removed from a group shot for expressing religious messages.

The principal worried the school could get into trouble by violating the separation of church and state. The Tinker decision, however, guarantees students possess rights to free speech. When the principal pulled the student out of the photograph, he was depriving the students their rights to free speech and showing viewpoint preference. 

The answer, it turns out, is in allowing press rights. The yearbook staff owns the group photo, and the staff editors own the right to determine content in the yearbook.

As the adviser, I discuss with the students what they want to allow in the photograph. Once they agree the only messages allowed are class-spirited ones, students can be pulled out of the photograph by the adviser or principal, or anyone else, as long as they are acting on behalf of the yearbook editors, who “own” the content of the photograph.

The moment the principal acted alone, the speech rights, which were originally owned by the student editors, shifted to a conflict between the students with the religious message and the principal, with the property right shifting to the students. 

The moment the principal acted alone, the speech rights, which were originally owned by the student editors, shifted to a conflict between the students with the religious message and the principal, with the property right shifting to the students.

Mitch Ziegler …

By the time of the controversy about my student’s article, administrators at my school were armed with proper knowledge of student press rights. They were able to educate district administrators and board members early in the process, which limited or prevented reactive responses, and they were able to respond to angry community members in a way the tended to defuse the situation. 

And it was not just the law that protected me. I was able to build credibility and relationships with site administrators, which I believe was as important as the law itself. At no point did I feel threatened or undermined. 

It’s all about communication and being proactive with administrators. This is not a guaranteed recipe for success, even in California. These strategies have the potential to help in many situations, but they will never be as useful without New Voices legislation. 

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Riding out the storm should involve future planning

Posted by on Aug 25, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


Scholastic media have important information to convey, this year probably more than ever. In far too many communities, school media are the only source of such information in a news desert created when local and sometimes even larger newspapers have folded in recent years. As we work our way through the storm that is 2020, student-run journalism should learn to anticipate what’s coming next, and how to avoid negative impact.

Part 2 of multiple parts

by John Bowen, MJE

For most high schools, school looms in the coming weeks when students – and advisers – face more of what 2020 can throw at them. Already this fall, journalism programs have faced unforeseen challenges.

• In a state with freedom of expression legislation, student journalists withstood threats demanding prior review, which is often not prohibited by state legislation. The school’s superintendent came to the students’ defense, explaining protection for student free expression.

• In a state trying to pass free expression legislation, school officials made even stronger threats of prior review when students and community members publicized school actions.

• In another state, student photographers were suspended for taking photos of students crowded in a hallway. Most students pictured did not wear masks. Within a week the school faced increasing numbers of those testing positive. School officials also lifted two students’ suspensions for taking the photos.

• During protests earlier this summer, student journalists found themselves targets of police and federal agents as they attempted to cover national events for local perspectives.

Such challenges will continue.

To stay ahead of problems, students can learn to anticipate plan to avoid problems. Such preventative decision-making and problem-solving builds ethical fitness.

Issues student journalists likely will focus around these:

• As the numbers affected by virus continue remain news, scholastic journalists will face questions about how they report it and related local issues:

        –How will HIPAA and FERPA affect reporting of Covid-19 related student issues? Should student-run media try to identify those who tested positive?

–How will journalists handle sources’ requests concerning privacy? How much will your students inform their communities about journalism and privacy?

–What are student rights and responsibilities concerning visual reporting of those involved in massless participation in music, sports event and more.   Think photography in crowded hallways.

–What will your audiences need to know about the virus and its effects on education issues, stories your students can do better than anyone else.

–Who speaks most authoritatively on Covid-19 and fallout that surrounds it?

• Election reporting and student media:

          –Will your students run political candidate or issue ads, nationally and locally? Some administrators claim student media cannot to that. Research and determine the staff’s view on endorsements and their legality. Check out SPLC’s guidance. Perhaps students don’t want to deal with endorsement. What are pros-cons of that choice? 

How will your students report the national election, one on which, some say, will determine the future of democracy in the United States? Should they emphasize the locally important issues? Focus on what voters need to know and the myriad questions that can follow? Would they run only viewpoint pieces?

Questions to help anticipate potential areas of conflict in this time of change

           –How would your students explain choosing not to run such ads?

      –How will your students report the national election, one on which, some say, will determine the future of democracy in the United States? Should they emphasize the locally important issues? Focus on what voters need to know and the myriad questions that can follow? Would they run only viewpoint pieces?

–How can, or should they factcheck candidates’ claims? What is your obligation to the truth? What is the obligation to call out lies?

–How far will student media go to expose source and information falsity? Is it ethical to plainly call a source a liar?

–What roles, if any, will objectivity, verification, credibility, integrity and knowledge play. Oh, and those are for reporter, columnist and editors as well as sources.

What ethical planning might student journalists have to make for visual reporting standards when reporting on BLM and protests, police reform and more? For example, should ethical guidelines be changed when identifying protestors, or other participants, to protect their identities.

–How do you determine whose information to cite? Do you have a process to do that? Which student staffers have final say on publishing questionable materials? How do you define questionable? This and this and this and this.

What is the context of information gathered/received from sources; and about sources themselves; do they have conflicts of interest about the topic?

— How good is this story? Professor William Taylor drilled this motto into us in journalism classes: “It isn’t right until it is right.” Who decides what right entails? Right for whom? What’s right: facts, context, implication, perspectives?

–Can voters count on the information to be complete and cohesive enough to cast an informed vote (and we will share more about this in another blog when we look at prior review and restraint and the roe of administrators concerning student media.

Can/should high school media do this kind of reporting? Why and how? And this.

• Reporting the truth as best you can find it:

–How do you define “responsible?” What is “Responsible Journalism” and who sets the meaning? It is quite common to find a variety of definitions, and that can cause problems. because the term has become a buzzword for control and censorship.

Is objectivity the gold standard for news journalism? What does it mean; what does it mean in the school setting? Could a photographer also be a “cheerleader,” supporting the team while performing news functions from the sidelines? Is it possible, and this and this.

–How do student journalists choose terminology accurate about other cultures, the economy, education, religion? When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

Using language of authority, from police to elections; from medicine to the economy; from global issues to environmental issues? (can reporters be objective in talking about criminal charges, terrorist, etc) .

Should viewpoint coverage be clearly labeled? Some studies say some audiences cannot tell the differences. Whose responsibility is it to know how to tell the difference?

–To what degree can prior review and restraint alter the truth and accuracy of information? Do voters receive accurate, factual, complete and coherent information upon which to make intelligent, informed decisions? 

–What does censorship teach students and adults about whether what they learn about civic engagement, petition and duty is different from reality? What do they do about that new fact?

What are journalists’ roles now and in the future? How do we help student media be prepared for the changing journalism landscape?

The first piece of this series on preparing student journalists to face change affecting how they complete their obligations and mission. we referred to the “perfect storm” mixing in to a “seething atmosphere of political unease” to go with the virus, protests and the election.

This blog, second in the series, Riding out the storm, is designed to raise questions about additional ethical training student media need. Student journalists can become more adept at anticipating changes to scholastic media and communities it serves, and and in creating alternatives to. 

Communities, student and adult, can then take the information they need to factually engage and build desirable futures.

Alone, each of these issues could deeply stress scholastic journalism’s ethical framework. Together, engaging issues and alternatives, we can craft a path to ultimately unify scholastic journalism’s foundation: mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and application process.

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