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Be a leader in Year of the Student Journalist

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by John Bowen, MJE

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier contributes to people’s inability to trust journalists since much of what today’s society grew up with as journalism appeared in student media. There, journalists often battled censorship, prior review or intimidation. 

When that’s what the media carried – incomplete information that conveniently omitted unfavorable details or saw entertainment as news, then that’s what fledgling citizens came to expect from commercial media.

This created a lack of trust that limited news media’s ability, in some cases, to effectively perform their civic responsibility and watchdog roles. 

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote in “The Elements of Journalism,” “The public’s growing discontent with journalism that began in the 1980’s is not a rejection of journalism’s values. It is a result of journalists’ failure to live up to those values.

Refreshing trust can begin with good journalism on the scholastic level. At the beginning of this school year we would offer these critical areas for special emphasis in 2019: Year of the Student Journalist:

• 2019 and older Constitution Day lessons and activities
•  Outreach to   journalistic responsibility
• Discussion on journalism advocacy and the role of questioning authority in a democratic society
• SPRC priorreview/forum materials
• SPRC mission/policy/ethics/process models

While it is understood some journalism programs cannot immediately practice all of the freedoms they are entitled to, we feel their students and advisers should teach like they do practice them. Then principles, mission and journalistic responsibilities begin to have an impact. 

2019, Year of Student Journalist, should be the focus.

Journalism provides something unique to a culture, Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote in “The Elements of Journalism.” “Independent, reliable, accurate and comprehensive information citizens require in order to make sense of the world around them.”

“A journalism that provides something other than that subverts democratic culture,” they continued. “That is what happens when governments control the news.”

Censorship, prior review and intimidation destroy a society’s trust in news media by quashing or cherry-picking independent, reliable, accurate and comprehensive information.

Kovach and Rosenstiel also stress the primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with information they need to be free and self-governing.

Thirty-one years of Hazelwood simply perpetuated the continuation and development of censorship, a culture of underinformed citizens and a stagnant commons for open exchange of ideas.  

—John Bowen

If the only news coming to voters about schools is glowingly and incompletely positive, how can they honestly cast informed votes? For example, an Ohio school paper was unable to publish photos of water-damaged ceilings and classrooms in a story about a needed school levy. 

The reason: They made the school look bad.

Thirty-one years of Hazelwood simply perpetuated the continuation and development of censorship, a culture of underinformed citizens and a stagnant commons for open exchange of ideas.  

Students – and many of their advisers – know nothing else.

We should commit ourselves and our students to vibrant leadership, in some way, to begin the journey to dismantle Hazelwood’s legacy of censorship, prior review and intimidation.

“Leadership…” writes ethicist Rushworth Kidder in “How Good People Make Tough Choices,” “Is not about tactics, micromanagement and fine detail. It is about articulating share values and develop a vision for the future – since that after all, is how consensus is built and gridlock broken.”

Make The Year of the Student Journalism one of rebirth and change.

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