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Hazelwood is what advisers make of it,
only as strong as you allow it to be


by Ben Harwood

Hazelwood stories: Ultimately, it’s up to advisers to dictate Hazelwood’s lasting impact.

Hazelwood’s defining legacy can be one of obstruction, censorship and frustration – an all-encompassing “disruption-to-the-educational-process” shield wielded by administrators fearful of litigation.25 years of Hazelwood art

Or it can be used as a vehicle to build better student journalists – making them more skeptical, deliberate, detail-oriented and ever in search of more expert sources.

I’ve chosen the latter.

With the exception of obscenity, unprotected speech and stories that will place a source or reporter in danger, Hazelwood shouldn’t influence an adviser’s decision to green light a reporter’s story.

Want to cover X or do a feature about Y?  Awesome — go for it.

When the topic is controversial, the journalist’s goal should be to objectively investigate and accurately report a story in a manner so compelling and so strongly sourced, the publication has no choice but to share it with the community.

I’m not suggesting a wild, throw-caution-to-the-wind approach.

Instead, embrace the many teachable moments that come with proactively diffusing potential obstacles.

Encourage your editors and reporters to consult an outside legal expert before going to print. The Student Press Law Center is an amazing resource. My staff runs two or three stories a year past them (which reminds me, I should probably send over a gift). Develop relationships with law school professors. Build partnerships with professional journalists nearby.

In short, make it easier for your administrator to believe in your students, your program and – most importantly — you.

These steps build credibility and give your students’ newsroom an air of professionalism.

I’ve been fortunate to build and maintain the support of administrators and the community. I’ve never been threatened with censorship or prior review. Along with my editors, I helped craft the district’s publications policy.

But I’ve worked hard to develop my program’s credibility and in this community, nobody demands more or has higher expectations than I do.

There’s a phrase I often repeat to my students: “You will be taken as seriously as you take yourself.”
The grammar is brutal, but the point is simple – preparation, combined with the right amount of well-placed confidence, can go a long way.

Student journalists provide an important community service and are capable of exceptional work. No court decision will ever change that.

Hazelwood is only as strong as you allow it to be.

Ben Harwood is newspaper adviser and FLEX teacher at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan.






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