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The fight for First Amendment rights has escalated

Posted by on May 25, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

Needless to say, a staple in any beginning journalism course is (or should be) understanding the First Amendment. Many educators go to great lengths, and rightfully so, to make sure their students know the five freedoms guaranteed (religion, speech, press, assembly, petition).

The 45 words are engrained in our, and hopefully our student’s, heads from the days of J-1 and for the rest of our lives.

We know them.

We defend them.

And we expect our government to abide them.

Sadly, the key word in the previous sentence is expect. However, recent stories have indicated that is not the case. 

Both The Washington Post and CNN have revealed situations in which the Trump Administration sought to interfere with the practice of a free press.

On May 7, the Post reported:

“The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.”

Almost exactly two weeks later, on May 20, CNN moved a story that said almost exactly the same thing when it reported:

“The Trump administration secretly sought and obtained the 2017 phone and email records of a CNN correspondent, the latest instance where federal prosecutors have taken aggressive steps targeting journalists in leak investigations.”

Be concerned. Very concerned.

The fear facing the American public at large is that the very principles of our democracy continue to come under attack by government officials who seek to manipulate the Constitution for their own personal vendettas. The assault on the American media, in this case by the Trump Administration, is little more than effort to erode the trust in the media among the American people.

While there may be warts in journalistic practice by some scribes, the reality is that the institution that is the American media is pretty damn good – largely because the framers of the Constitution saw to it that Americans deserved a press that was free of government interference.

Journalism curriculums at all levels need to be tweaked to take into consideration the current climate of battering of the media. For high school educators, the challenge is more daunting. No longer can student journalists embark on journalism because it’s fun or because they have a friend on staff.

It has become a rumble. A street fight.

The challenge for student, if not all, journalists, is echoed in the oath given to the President of the United States to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” By upholding the intent of the First Amendment, student journalists are in essence following the oath. Obviously, scholastic journalists need to understand and practice the full breadth of power and responsibility they have under the First Amendment.

And with this power and responsibility comes something else. Something that may usurp the joy and fun of being a student journalist.

The challenge. Not the challenge of getting a good grade. Not the challenge of meeting deadlines or accurate reporting.

The challenge “from above.” The proverbial trickle-down effect.

The new and now seemingly sad reality, is that interreference by those “in power” who see fit to try and impede the First Amendment Rights of journalists – including student journalists. 

In the past, solid reporting and fact checking were the main spears needed to ward off an attack by overzealous administrators, community activists and, sadly, even parents who want to impede the educational process based on their own biases. 

Journalism educators need to step up their coaching of student journalists when it comes to identifying support for their First Amendment rights. The obvious first steps are JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and the Student Press Law Center. Beyond these two pillars of support for scholastic journalism, advisers and students should reach out and connect with state and congressional representatives who understand the need for a free and responsible student press and that fabrications that students don’t have First Amendment rights are unwarranted and unfounded.

Students and advisers should also look for support from organizations like American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the League of Woman Voters. Both groups have regional or local chapters that more than likely be willing to work with students.

The challenge for student, if not all, journalists, is echoed in the oath given to the President of the United States to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” By upholding the intent of the First Amendment, student journalists are in essence following the oath. Obviously, scholastic journalists need to understand and practice the full breadth of power and responsibility they have under the First Amendment.

Stan Z0ller

Scholastic press associations should consider initiatives to step up their efforts to initiate or support New Voices legislation.

The need has always been there.  Now, however, the stakes are greater than ever before.

The defense of First Amendment rights can no longer be penciled into a unit in a course curriculum, or on a poster during Scholastic Journalism Week or Constitution Week.

Like the ongoing assault, the defense must be ongoing. 

We don’t have a choice.

We need to be concerned. Very concerned.

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Elections may be over, but not the responsibility

Posted by on Apr 13, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

In many states, communities recently elected or re-elected candidates to a multitude of government bodies from city council to township trustees to school boards.

Sadly, voter turnout in local elections is traditionally low – very low – as people are as about as interested in their local officials as a chocoholic is in vanilla.

From a civics standpoint, it’s disappointing. From a civic education standpoint, it’s just plain miserable. Imagine teaching students the importance being a responsible steward of the electoral process when the majority of people don’t seem to care.

The lessons associated with local elections, specifically school board elections, can be split into two simple steps. Before and after.

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After 234 years, Hamilton’s words remain spot on

Posted by on Mar 8, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

When Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers in 1787, odds are more than pretty good that scholastic journalism wasn’t on their minds. 

two black skeleton keys on an old paper
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Safe bet.

In one of the 51 essays he wrote, Hamilton noted that “…A government continually at a distance and out of sight can hardly be expected to interest the sensations of the people.”

His point is simple – government needs to be visible and accountable to the people. Pronounced 234 years ago, the point still rings true today and it has obviously been a challenge for the media to be the watchdog of governments, large and small, national and local.

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Quick Tips

Posted by on Mar 2, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

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Yearbook finished? Independent project planning need ideas? Class or media ideas require supercharging? Search SPRC’s Quick Tips for a wide range of models, activities and resources. And, if you discover we don’t have something your students need or want, let us know.

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Journalism Against the Odds

Posted by on Feb 19, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

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by Cyndi Hyatt

Student Press Freedom Day is February 26. 

This year’s theme is Journalism Against the Odds – how fitting for the bulk of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.

Last March who could have predicted the unfolding of a global pandemic closing high schools and colleges, cutting students off from campuses and classrooms, classmates and school staffs.  Who would have predicted the shutdown of entertainment events, restaurants, sporting venues? 

These past 12 months have been challenging in every way for  students who want to cover community news in a predominantly virtual world.  

The first few months of the pandemic were messy and difficult for student-run journalism programs trying to figure out how to keep momentum and how to find and report the important stories,  how to battle administrations who wanted to curtail and limit their production in virtual and hybrid environments.

Student journalists, innovative and creative as ever, rose to the challenge producing newspapers, broadcasts, podcasts, news and literary magazines, yearbooks and social media adapted to the new normal.  

Subsequently, these past 12 months created a new kind of student journalist, one who canrise to challenges, overcome obstacles and adjust coverage. 

Against odds, they continued to report stories that mattered then and still matter now:  Covid-19 and its effect on their communities, local government elections, the 2020 Presidential election, the 2021 Capitol insurrection and systemic racism and social inequity.  

And many of these journalists stood up to barriers and attempted censorship challenging their freedoms and rights to cover protests, to criticize policies, to voice their opinions, to obtain public records, to record, report and tell the truth.

Despite the challenges, there is no better time to be a student journalist.  

February 26 celebrates the successes and innovative reporting produced in the last 12 months.  Embrace the First Amendment and its freedoms.  Stand up to censorship. Get excited about the stories that still need to be told.

February 26 celebrates the successes and innovative reporting produced in the last 12 months.  Embrace the First Amendment and its freedoms.  Stand up to censorship. Get excited about the stories that still need to be told.  

And don’t let the odds stand in your way.

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Transparency revisited

Posted by on Feb 13, 2021 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

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Approach maintains credibility, builds trust and strengthens reporting

To maintain credibility student reporters and editors should strive to be transparent in all aspects of their reporting, from choosing sources, angles and  context to revealing within the text of a story how interviews were obtained (if anything other than an in-person interview is used), giving proper attribution to direct quotes, as well as using indirect quotes to give attribution to ideas and details that come from sources. 

Reporters should also be transparent in how secondary source information was obtained (i.e. through a public records request, etc.).

Question:
Why is transparency important in student reporting? How can students be transparent in their reporting?

Stance
Student reporters should strive for transparency within their writing and student editors should confirm where information came from as part of their routine fact-checking duties before publication.

Key points/action:
• Students during the reporting process they should take thorough notes so they know where information comes from
•Teach students how to attribute information using both direct and indirect quotes
• Require student editors to do a “transparency check” before publication. While editing stories, if they are not sure where a piece of information came from they should discuss with the reporter the need to be transparent

Reasoning/suggestions
• Transparency is important in student media because it establishes credibility and combats the illusion of “fake news.” If readers or viewers know where the information came from, they are less likely to question its accuracy or claim falsities in the publication.
• It also serves to replace objectivity in a way that can show how and why certain information and sourcing supports the truth and journalistic responsibility .

Bottom line: Be clear where information comes from so no one can question the validity of that information (or if they do they can take those questions to the source and not the publication/reporter).

Resources:
Why Journalists Should Use Transparency as a Tool to Deepen
Engagement
Is Transparency the New Objectivity in Journalism

Related: Attribution & Objectivity

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