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Interviewing minors about sensitive topics proves controversial

Posted by on Dec 5, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Susan McNulty, CJE The Stampede and The Hoofbeat adviser J.W. Mitchell High School, Trinity, Florida

In 2017, my journalism students included coverage in the yearbook about ­­­­­­­­­­­online harassment. They interviewed two students and quoted them by name.

The next year, editors wrote and included a story about anorexia, this time using anonymous sources. In 2019, the People section editors included feature stories, including photographs and direct quotes, about four seniors, each facing their own unique challenges: a transgender boy, an immigrant, a cancer patient and a mainstreamed student with Asperger’s Syndrome.

In none of these instances did student journalists contact parents for approval or consent.

Reporting societal issues can bring calls for parental consent. Should some topics off-limits to journalism students without securing parental consent before publication? Photo furnished by Susan McNulty

This week in Round Rock, Texas, parents of a high school student brought a lawsuit against the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD), accusing a journalism teacher of exploiting and contributing to their daughter’s anorexia. 

RRISD issued a statement Tuesday, Dec. 3, stating, “our goal is to create a safe and supportive environment for all of our students, and when issues related to our students’ well-being present themselves, we take quick and appropriate action. When this allegation was brought to our attention and we investigated, we took prompt corrective action and the person is no longer employed by Round Rock ISD.”

Read more about this case here: https://www.statesman.com/news/20191203/parents-sue-round-rock-district-claiming-teacher-worsened-their-childs-eating-disorder

Are some topics off-limits to journalism students without securing parental consent before publication?

Are there ways to cover sensitive, relevant yet controversial topics of teen concern without causing harm?

Professional journalists also grapple with the same questions student journalists face. Sarah Carr of the Education Writers Association created a reporter guide which offers insight and advice when interviewing children: https://www.ewa.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/ewa-reporter-guide-interviewing-children.pdf

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Podcast: Importance of passing New Voices legislation

Posted by on Nov 25, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Kristin Taylor, CJE

We hope you will check out and share the latest episode of the SPRC podcast Conversations at the Schoolhouse Gate. I’ve pasted the episode notes below.

Please subscribe, rate and review! It makes a huge difference to getting the podcast out there. In case you aren’t subscribed on iTunes/Apple podcasts or Spotify, here’s a direct link to episode on the podcast website.

Harrisonburg High School journalism adviser Emilee Hussack interviews fellow Virginian adviser Tiffany Kopcak about the second campaign to try to pass New Voices legislation in Virginia. Kopcak offers suggestions for students wanting to contact their own delegates or begin their own campaigns to create or support New Voices legislation in their own states.

If you are a student or a student media adviser with a story about scholastic press freedom, we want to hear from you. You can reach us at sprc@jea.org with the subject line “Podcast” or tweet us at @jeapressrights.

So you don’t miss out on future episodes, please subscribe to this podcast through any of the many podcast applications available for your computer or phone.

Go here for more podcasts.

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Making a Difference stories

Posted by on Nov 22, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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The story dispelled rumors, confirmed facts

by Hillary deVoss

A teacher’s death can send shockwaves throughout a school community, leading to panic, confusion and rumors.

To student journalists at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky., a beloved teacher’s unexpected death was a call for them to respond to a crisis – and do so quickly.

“When we published, this was the most-read story on our site for the entire calendar year thus far, as well as the whole school year,” student editor Piper Hansen said. “The story made a difference by dispelling rumors and confirming what few facts we had at the time.”

The staff at Manual Redeye, advised by James Miller, continued to update the story as more details unfolded.

Follow the story here

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Lessons from Northwestern U’s student edit open learning paths

Posted by on Nov 20, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Candace Bowen, MJE

Student journalism – at least at the collegiate level – hit the news big time last week and received plenty of criticism — both for what was covered and for an apology for covering the story.

However, as the newspaper’s editor said in a tweet later, “Our statement addressed some legitimate areas of growth we noticed in our reporting, but also over-corrected in others.”

Growth and learning here are vital. And the situation may have some good lessons for advisers working with high school media, too.

If students (or anyone else) protest in public, taking their photograph and reporting on the protest is fair game under the First Amendment. There was no intrusion on anyone’s privacy or ‘safety.’: an attorney who has defended journalists

For those who haven’t read about the incident in reactions and links on the JEAHELP listserv or seen tweets or posts from various journalists and the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Tribune, here’s a brief explanation and then a look at the lessons those student journalists might learn – and our students as well.

Former attorney general Jeff Sessions spoke Nov. 5 at Northwestern University, hosted by the school’s College Republicans. Not everyone was pleased about this, particularly because of Sessions’ policies concerning minorities and marginalized communities. The independent student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, set out to cover both the speech and the protests. This included quotes from protesters and photos of those who carried signs and eventually forced their way into the speech. This resulted in meeting police, who then were, as The Daily reported, “knocking some to the ground and pushing others out.”

The results of the student coverage the next day were complaints from protesters and demands that a protester’s name be removed from quotes and photos deleted from a staff photographer’s Twitter account. After The Daily did make these changes, editor-in-chief Troy Closson published an editorial, apologizing for the staff’s initial coverage.

He wrote that he did want their audience to “understand the gravity of the events that took place,” but also “decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.” 

That’s when newsroom pros jumped in, some outraged and highly critical. Not surprisingly, those on Twitter tended to be a bit more caustic and less reasoned. Some were downright nasty. But this was the gist of those:

“If saying sorry for doing a journalist’s job…perhaps the real world will be a little too much for you. Perhaps you should just get out now….,” tweeted a Seattle TV news photographer.

A reporter from the NBC affiliate in Chicago was tough, but straightforward in his response to Crosson’s editorial: “As a working journalist of 44 years, I’m appalled at what I have read in this editorial. It was a public demonstration. Students chose to be there. A reporter asks questions, and publishes the answers. You ask someone’s name. If they don’t want to give it, so be it—they decline. If they give it, you can use it. Period. End of story. The larger question should always be about balance. But worrying about whether someone is going to get in trouble? That’s their choice for being there. (Some very courageous students in China, Egypt, numerous former Soviet bloc countries, and Hong Kong could fill you in on this). 

“Your job is to report on the event.”

Others offered more specific advice: “As an attorney who has litigated First Amendment/Defamation issues and defended journalists, I wish you had used this editorial to explain to your fellow students how journalism and the First Amendment work. If students (or anyone else) protest in public, taking their photograph and reporting on the protest is fair game under the First Amendment. There was no intrusion on anyone’s privacy or ‘safety.’ I applaud the university allowing speakers like Sessions – I don’t agree with his politics, but making universities into ‘safe spaces’ that limit points of view in public discourse is incredibly dangerous.” 

An education reporter in Salem, Oregon, also pointed out the need to learn: “Hey Troy, as one of the journos who shared thoughts on your statement earlier today, I really admire your willingness to work through some tough shit in public. (And deal with a pile-on which I’m sure hasn’t been easy.) I hope y’all can correct the overcorrection & keep learning.”

Entire columns offered even more advice. Eric Wemple, media critic at The Washington Post, wrote, “News outlets are prone to circling the wagons when they get pushback from the folks they cover. They don’t cough up apologies over nothing. It generally takes a whopping error of fact or a face-palming lapse in judgment.”

Then he added a one-word paragraph: “Generally.”

And he acknowledged pros use sources such as “a CNN spokesperson” and what he describes as “the protective veil hovering over most press-White House conversations.” He also described the “quote-approval” that even some well-respected media use. 

“It was a mistake to compromise The Daily Northwestern’s coverage of an event that took place right out in the open. In doing so, though, it accommodated a few powerless people, as opposed to accommodating many powerful people as so often happens in major media outlets: Eric Wemple, Washington Post media critic

Wemple sees the lesson for Crosson and student journalists is not to go too far. “It was a mistake to compromise The Daily Northwestern’s coverage of an event that took place right out in the open. In doing so, though, it accommodated a few powerless people, as opposed to accommodating many powerful people as so often happens in major media outlets. In a segment this afternoon, Fox News host Dana Perino asked, ‘Do we have a responsibility to teach college students what journalism is?’”

“Of course — preferably by example,” Wemple concluded.

Columnist Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune, wrote Nov. 12, “I cringed a bit when I read the editorial. Then, again, I cringe when I think back to at least a third of the work I did at my college newspaper.”

She interviewed the senior and staff photographer of The Daily who agreed to take down photos from his Twitter account after protesters contacted him. Although he said he learned from covering protests in Argentina last winter, Stevens reported that he said he understood the protests were public, but he would have a conversation with anyone who objected to one of his photos.

Stevens’ conclusion: Both journalists and protesters need to realize their actions will be under a microscope. “If these students want to practice professional journalism, the backlash to Sunday’s editorial offers a lesson that’s just as important as anything the students will learn in the classroom, any communication case law or copyediting rules or multimedia skills. The public is rarely kind. Your critics are legion.”

The dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern Charles Whitaker wrote his own response Nov. 12 and supported the independent journalists while also chiding them. 

“Journalism—when executed fairly, accurately and independently —allows a society to see itself in all its splendor and strife,” he wrote, but also, “…when done poorly or unfairly, journalism can most certainly scar individuals and communities. Indeed, there is no shortage of instances in which journalists have parachuted into settings, particularly those occupied by vulnerable or marginalized people, and provided accounts that were devoid of any sense of cultural competency.”

“Journalism—when executed fairly, accurately and independently —allows a society to see itself in all its splendor and strife,” he wrote, but also, “…when done poorly or unfairly, journalism can most certainly scar individuals and communities: dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern Charles Whitaker

He applauded their coverage, saying it was “in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism.” And he said he was “deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering” they had to endure for it. He said he understood why they felt the need to apologize, but their “well-intentioned gesture sends a chilling message” that they must listen to the loudest voices and now serve as independent producers of the truth.

He ended with his version of the lesson to learn from this: “My hope is that we at Northwestern can model ways in which a community can promote freedom of the press while also demonstrating how we conduct healthy and respectful debate. I would be happy to do my part to facilitate that dialogue.”

Obviously increasing diversity in the newsroom, standing firm with stories that need telling, being the voice of all your audience and encouraging a dialogue about problems are all lessons that can come from this incident. Deciding when or if something should be taken down from a website is a tough call, one that required some staff conversation before an incident occurs. (See what JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee has to say about this.)

Perhaps there’s one more bit of advice that came from freelance journalist and editor Glenn Fleishman, who  tweeted the buried lesson: “The editorial was so vague that I don’t even know what you think you did and what you were apologizing for, nor what you’re promising to stop doing. It seems like the university excessively punishes students for protesting? Isn’t that the story?” 

I agree. That may be the best advice of all.

Crosson wrote in his editorial, “As a campus newspaper covering a student body that can be very easily and directly hurt by the University, we must operate differently than a professional publication in these circumstances.” 

Later, he added, “While some universities grant amnesty to student protesters, Northwestern does not.” That seems to have led The Daily Northwestern staff members to feel they needed to show more empathy. But it also should have led them to question why their university doesn’t grant amnesty to protesters. 

At any level, student journalists need to recognize and explore the problems their audiences face. It may not be exactly what crowds are protesting – but it may be even deeper and more important than that.

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Join us at #nhsjc in DC

Posted by on Nov 19, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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The Scholastic Press Rights Committee is leading a number of sessions at the JEA/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention, scheduled for Nov. 21-24 in Washington, D.C. Here’s a list you can take with you to the Marriott Wardman Park. We hope to see you at one or all of them.

Open forum: Discussion of legal and ethical issues (first of two)
Facing censorship issues including prior review or just have legal or ethical questions? Come to discuss them with members of the SPRC.
Forum leaders: John Bowen and Lori Keekley
10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22
Lincoln 6, Exhibition Level

Protecting your rights as an adviser
Journalism teachers and media advisers often feel vulnerable and pulled in different directions. Learn both principles and tactics that will give you the maximum legal protection when it comes to defending your support for the press freedom of your students.
Session leader: Mark Goodman
11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22
Truman, Mezzanine Level

Protecting your press freedom
School administrators, community members and faculty may want to interfere with the content decisions your student media leaders make. But there are concrete steps that student journalists and advisers can take to establish legal protections for your press freedom. Learn how you can create a policy and practice of independence.
Session leader: Mark Goodman
1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22
Washington 1, Exhibition Level

Legal and ethical issues for advisers
Do you plan to take the CJE or MJE test or just want to be more familiar with legal and ethical student media issues? If you want to appreciate the impact of landmark court cases or understand the importance of your publication’s forum status, join us here.
Session leader: Candace Perkins Bowen
2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22
Virginia C, Lobby Level

Scholastic Press Rights Committee meeting
We’ll meet to make plans and goals for the upcoming year. Advisers who are interested in being part of the committee are invited to attend.
Session leader: Lori Keekley
7:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23
Park Tower 8212, Lobby Level

Obtaining press freedom in private schools
This session explores the conundrum of freedom of speech in schools without First Amendment protections. We’ll discuss strategies for building trust and positive relationships with school administration and pedagogical and mission-based arguments for student press freedoms.
Session leaders: Kristin Taylor and Anna Brodsky
9 a.m. Saturday, Truman, Mezzanine Level

Open forum: Discussion of legal and ethical issues (second of two)
Facing censorship issues including prior review or just have legal or ethical questions? Come to discuss them with members of the SPRC.
Forum leaders: Lori Keekley and John Bowen
10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23
Park Tower 8216, Lobby Level

Working with administrators who don’t understand
Student-led media provides the strongest protection for the school and the greatest learning for the students. Even in Hazelwood states it is the law, but some school administrators just don’t “get it.” This session discusses ways students can advance the cause of student-led journalism.
Session leaders: Jane Blystone and Lori Keekley
11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23
Virginia A, Lobby Level

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Despite state legislation protecting student media, students face constraints, including required changes in content

Posted by on Nov 18, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

Imagine this scenario.

You’re at an airport when you are approached by a security guard who, after noticing your press credentials, staff T-shirt or other items that identifies you as a journalist, says, “You write propaganda, right?” And you are allowed to pass only after you agree. 

Court cases and Hazelwood timeline

Farfetched?

It may seem that way, but it’s sad reality because last month, Ben Watson, a news editor for Defense One, an Atlantic Media site, found himself the subject of an uncomfortable interview. He was held up at passport control in Dulles International Airport by a Customs and Border Protection officer, who repeatedly asked him, “You write propaganda, right?”

The chiding and abusive comments toward the media seem to be, sadly, more commonplace these days. And, sadly enough, student journalists are not immune to this kind of behavior.

Imagine if in addition to “admitting” you wrote propaganda, officials kept your media from being distributed.

Again, farfetched? Not really.

 Just ask the staff of the Central Times, the student newspaper at Naperville (Illinois) Central High School.

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