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SPRC adds ‘one-stop shopping’
for law and ethics manual

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Four concepts drive the creation of journalistic approaches: mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual procedure. Together, with forum material, the four comprise a package of complementary principles we call the Foundation of Journalism, often known as a staff manual.

These principles represent the key pillars of standards-based journalism and are the products of perhaps the most important journalistic decisions the student staff can make. Together, the concepts enhance the strengthen the process and product, the decision-making and critical thinking that can characterize student media.

Click the Law-Ethics Manual nav bar link for our one-stop’ shopping.

More are on the way.

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Another 45 essential words

Posted by on Jan 14, 2018 in Blog, Hazelwood, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments



by John Bowen, MJE
In building a journalism program around the 45 words below, no journalist should be limited by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which impacts society in a variety of ways, some not immediately visible.

Student journalists need: 

  • Truthseeking
  • Truthtelling
  • Accuracy
  • Honesty
  • Completeness
  • Context
  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Ethical fitness
  • Independence
  • Transparency
  • Diversity of ideas

Student journalists need to:

  • Question Authority
  • Witness
  • Verify
  • Be role models
  • Offer public forums
  • Have no prior review
  • Make final decisions
  • Encourage empowerment
  • Offer leadership
  • Inspire trust

Journalists and their audiences received an unfortunate lesson in Hazelwood:  governments of all types should control the spread of information. Audiences have learned not to trust the news media because they often see scholastic media limited in what it can do. The limitations are numerous.

Hazelwood’s lesson has lasted 30 years.

Starting Jan. 13, 1988, we experienced nightmares of misinformation, misguided thought control and fake news, sugar-coated as guidance, leadership and education, all through prior review and restraint.

It’s time to bring us all from the Hazelwood nightmare. It’s time to Cure Hazelwood. Censored news is fake news.

[pullquote]“Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints. In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” –Justice Hugo Black[/pullquote]

To do that, we can think about, and then apply, what Justice Hugo Black wrote in the New York Times Co. v. United States (the Pentagon Papers) decision in 1971.

Black’s statement is an important part in the film The Post:  “Both the history and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints. In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Student media must be able to fulfill that role, too.

To learn about ways to fulfill that role, check out our materials on this site and especially information about the New Voices program and other Student Press Law Center Day of Action initiative.

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How can my school get involved
in the New Voices campaign? QT21

Posted by on Oct 15, 2017 in Blog, Hazelwood, News, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Almost a quarter of all states have now passed legislation protecting voice in student media, and instilling the virtues of the First Amendment as state statute for student media. North Dakota’s success in 2015 seemed to spark the latest fire that has seen legislative recognition of student speech in Illinois, Maryland, Vermont and Rhode Island.

That still leaves 38 states without overt student press rights protections, which muddies the waters for students, advisers, and school administrators.

If you live in a state without clear student press protections, work with your state-level scholastic media organizations, professional news organizations and school administrators to show the benefits of doing so.

The most important element of student press protection is that it establishes, state by state, a practical First Amendment laboratory in the schools, where students are empowered to make decisions, develop civic efficacy and establish ethical decision-making guidelines.

It also benefits schools and administrators in that it establishes clear and specific guidelines for student press that would not be acceptable. In most cases, that means libel, invasion or privacy, obscenity, or language that materially disrupts the rights of others to learn.

Students in states that have clear student press protections can also help by sharing the success stories of their real-life practice of the First Amendment in their schools. How has your classroom experience helped you make ethical decisions? How have you become more of a leader because your state law empowered you to do so?



Support free expression for others in local and larger communities


Students in all schools should actively support student press rights legislation in their states and/or other states with active legislation.


The New Voices campaign has successfully created student press protection laws in several states in the last two years. Currently, 13 states explicitly protect student press rights.

Building student media programs by protecting student press laws is one of the most efficacious means of building civically minded students. In a time when the media is increasingly under fire for the accuracy of their reporting, it’s critical we foster an environment in high schools which promotes ethical, truthful and accurate storytelling while protecting students’ rights to tell those stories.

Teachers and students who would like to be active in this movement, should contact their JEA state directors or reach out to the Student Press Law Center.


JEA updates its Adviser Code of Ethics

Center for Scholastic Journalism Legislative Conference videos


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Censored news is fake news

Posted by on Jan 8, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Censored news is fake news.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, wrote that in Fake News, Real Solutions recently. He said the first wave of responses to fake news does not cure the underlying problem.

We agree wholeheartedly.

LoMonte blamed part of the problem on an educational system that tells students across the country to “publish only news that flatters government officials and reflects favorably on government policies.”

Censored news is fake news.

Such censored news at least partly stems from the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court’s Hazelwood decision.

LoMonte suggested the way to fight the fake news epidemic is to ensure educational institutions inoculate their students and don’t spread the virus.

That inoculation comes from more freedom, not less; more journalistic responsibility, not less; and from solid practice of ethical journalism.

As journalism groups strive to fight fake news in many ways, let’s begin in our schools by identifying at least four types of fake news:
• Information meant to deceive
• Information generated through sloppy and incomplete reporting
• Information not clearly identified as sponsored news
• Information spread by censored media

Follow JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and others over the next several months as we examine the issue of fake news, identify the problems it creates and seek solutions so scholastic journalism can lead in the fight against fake news and its impact.

Noteable resources:
• Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning
• Students have ‘dismaying’ inability to tell fake news from real, study shows
• A guide to spotting fake news
The dangers of crying wolf with ‘post-truth’
How to spot fake news
• A savvy news consumer’s guide: How not to get duped
Many Americans believe fake news is sowing confusion



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Introduction to 2016 Constitution Day materials … and more

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Constitution Day lessons, activities and related materials


In preparation for Constitution Day 2016, several members of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee (SPRC), a committee of the Journalism Education Association, created lesson plans specific for the event.

We suggest celebrating Sept. 16 since the official Constitution Day is Saturday this year.

We created these lessons to help celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press.

[pullquote]Keep reading. There are more special offers at the end of the CD Day materials.[/pullquote]

Please contact me  if you have any questions or feedback about the lessons or how to implement them.

The SPRC works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation.


Students will examine the gray area between political correctness and free speech through peer discussion and real-world examples. Students will explore several topics in small groups followed by a large-group discussion. By Matt Smith

Since media organizations have moved to online formats, they have struggled with the practice of hosting online comments next to their content. Many news organizations require posters to meet specific standards, moderate the comments, and reserve the right to remove or delete comments and users. Some organizations even require each post be approved by a human before it can be live on their sites. More recently, NPR is the latest news organization to completely remove comments from its news sites. Students will explore the question whether the ability to comment on news stories creates a more or less informed culture. By Jeff Kocur

Students will design ethical guidelines they can use this fall and in later coverage (reporting and viewpoint) of elections, candidates and issues. They will examine the comprehensiveness election reporting and how students can go about building robust election coverage. The lesson also examines how students can apply ethical principles to this coverage. By John Bowen

Sometimes politicians misconstrue facts during debates and political ads. This lesson examines the “truthiness” of the ads running currently. Students will analyze one from the Democratic and one from the Republican party. Students could look at a TV ad, online ad or print ad. By Lori Keekley

To see past years’ lessons, go here. Also has links to previous years.

Please send any feedback to I’d love to hear from you!

Lori Keekley

For JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and the Constitution Day Committee

Constitution Day Committee

John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)

Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)

Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)

Matt Smith, Fond du Lac (WI)

And we’re not done yet.

Additionally, we are reintroducing the Making a Difference Campaign.

This campaign will highlight at least one piece of student work each month to help illustrate how students can make a difference through their coverage.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

These are examples of student media that had an impact on the community or school where they were produced. They can be print, digital, video or audio.

On Constitution Day, we’ll release the link to the submission form and explain the process.

SPRC members will select student work that made a difference, post it on and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Let others see the work you have created. When you have something to contribute, please send it to us!

Wait, Wait. There’s more…

• Because two states, Illinois and Maryland, passed legislation over the summer and others are poised to do the same, the SPRC created a packet for helping communities of all kinds understand the importance of that legislation. The Student Free Expression Package will be released later in the week, but some of  its main points are outlined below:

Contents for this package:

  • Importance of state legislation: Although many educators and advocates think of the First Amendment (and the court decisions interpreting it) as the most important tool for interpreting student press rights, there is another equally important source of law: state statutes.
  • Why protecting student free expression is important: Students and advisers in states with recent freedom of expression legislation may want to inform their communities of educational rationale for the legislation. Additionally, those states working to pass such legislation might want to use the same points to gain support
  • Talking Points: With legislation giving students decision-making power over their student media comes questions about roles, purpose and standards. If the school cannot make content decisions who is responsible? What is the role of the adviser? Of students? If the adviser cannot control content, what guidelines will students follow and why?
  • Tips for engaging communities: With new legislation, or attempts to pass it, comes the need for ways to engage those who would support it. The ways can run from concept to concrete and can be delivered in many approaches with details determined locally.
  • Legislation terminology: A compilation of important terminology so everyone can better understand the language and issues surrounding student free expression language.
  • What to do if school officials threaten censorship: Even though state legislation can provide protection, sometimes others do not understand that and need further education. Use a friendly and informative approach and help them understand. Here are some steps we recommend.
  • Sample press release on state legislation: Another option for letting your various communities know about the benefits of free expression legislation is to create a press release to media, civic groups, school board and others.
  • Resources on state legislation: Links to additional information and contacts

And, as a special bonus…

• An important part of JEA’s supports for free expression rights for student journalists is the First Amendment Press Freedom Award.

In its 17th year, the award recognizes high schools that actively support, teach and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers. FAPFA-2012The recognition focuses on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content without prior review.

The award comes in two steps, with Round 1 due before Dec. 1. The entry form and entry information can be obtained here.






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Talking Points about student free expression

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Talking Points and terminology related to free expression legislation
Foundations_mainWith legislation giving students decision-making power over their student media comes questions about roles, purpose and standards. If the school cannot make content decisions who is responsible? What is the role of the adviser? Of students? If the adviser cannot control content, what guidelines will students follow and why?

The Student Press Law Center has said its goal for supporting free expression legislation is to approach the various New Voices Acts as comprehensive educational legislation that will benefit students at each stage of their development, while recognizing the differences between each educational environment.

[pullquote]“A core value of being a journalist is to understand the role of the press in a free society. That role is to provide an independent source of information so that a citizen can make informed decisions. It is often the case that this core value of journalistic independence requires a  journalist to question authority rather than side with authority. Thus, if the role of the press in a democratic society is to have any value, all journalists – including student journalists – must be allowed to publish viewpoints contrary to those of state authorities without intervention or censorship by the authorities themselves. Without protection, the freedoms of speech and press are meaningless and the press becomes a mere channel for official thought.”
– Judge Arthur Tarnow, Dean v. Utica Community Schools[/pullquote]

The Talking Points below, and the other materials in this package, might help clarify the importance of legislation protecting free speech and what the various terms – legal and educational – mean.

Points are used with permission from the Student Press Law Center, the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and JEA’s Principals and the Press initiative.

Talking points

• What do you mean that state legislation rolls back Hazelwood? Isn’t that illegal?

State legislation trumps Hazelwood because it adds to Constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment for all citizens, including students. In effect, it restores Tinker by rolling back Hazelwood.

A student editor of a school-sponsored publication in a state with these laws is entitled to both the protection of The First Amendment and the protection of the state law.  To put it another way, Hazelwood establishes the minimum level of high school press freedom that the First Amendment requires. No government official — federal, state or local — may act in a way, nor may lawmakers pass a law or policy, that provides individuals with less free speech protection than that required by the First Amendment, as interpreted in Hazelwood. Nothing, however, prevents state lawmakers from passing a law that requires school and government officials in their state to provide student journalists with more rights than the constitution requires.

• Aren’t the reasons for censorship in Hazelwood still censorable under this new legislation?

No. This legislation reverts to Tinker standards and unprotected speech: libel, material and substantial disruption, unwarranted invasion of privacy and obscenity.

• What are free and journalistically responsible student media?
Responsible student journalists strive for accuracy, completeness and balance to achieve and maintain credibility. The new legislation gives them a greater chance to achieve this practice.

Responsible scholastic journalists thoroughly gather and deliver coherent, accurate and complete content that serves their audience and its need to know – no matter what media platform they use.

Responsible students avoid unprotected speech — libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, copyright infringement and obscenity – and language that causes a material and substantial disruption of the school day or advocates illegal use of drugs.

Students learn to pursue and act on those standards by making final decisions of content, without review or restraint by adviser or those outside the student media staff.

Administrators can improve their schools’ learning environment by providing open access to information and the freedom to choose topics and sources essential to communities’ various audiences. Responsible administrators empower their teachers to educate students on legal and ethical responsibilities, making prior review and censorship counterproductive and unnecessary.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel say in “The Elements of Journalism,” journalists’ first responsibility is to the truth, and their loyalty is to the citizens they report for.

“Journalism provides something unique to a culture,” the authors write. “Independent, reliable, accurate and comprehensive information citizens require to be free.”

• What if the school has existing policy and school administrators say the law does not apply to existing policy?

New legislation would likely win out over existing policy if the policy were contrary to the wording and intent of the legislation. Prior review, however, might still be allowed so long as administrators or school officials just reviewed and did not demand change or make changes. Prior review, though, would have to be severely limited in terms of time. Read and return by the end of the school day is reasonable.

The SPLC’s Frank LoMonte said, “The (Illinois) legislation doesn’t say speech can be prohibited if the speech violates school policies – it says you can prohibit speech that incites students to violate district policies. I’m sure what they had in mind was stuff that incites people to violate disciplinary rules (truancy, tardiness) that are not actually ‘illegal.’” If a school were to ever actually say, ‘We have a school policy against criticizing the principal’ and tried to override HB 5902 on those grounds, we would gladly challenge it.

• What happens if an adviser is ill-prepared to properly guide students to make the “right” content choices?

We would urge advisers to make use of the myriad of materials available to them from multiple sources. The Student Press Law Center, The Freedom Forum, the national and regional scholastic press associations and the Journalism Education Association all have teaching and background resources. The Scholastic Press Rights Committee also urges advisers to work with students to design a journalistically  and educationally sound mission statement for student media, an editorial policy designating student media as public forums, journalistically responsible ethical guidelines that have clear processes students will follow.

All this is not just adviser and student responsibility. School boards and administrators also have an obligation to ensure advisers have adequate access to teaching materials and educational opportunities, including professional organization membership and workshops for teacher/adviser and students.

The reason we have professional organizations like JEA is to better prepare teachers, who may not be trained in journalism, for this important work. Just as some coaches may not have formal training to coach, student media advisers sometimes must learn on the job. This is not a reason to deny students the opportunity to have their voices heard by imposing administrative control over content, which only suppresses critical thinking and halts civic engagement; rather, it is a reason to encourage excellence and to support student responsibility by providing access to resources and training.

• How much is this going to cost schools?
Absolutely nothing. In fact, it might save districts money in the long run by protecting them from legal liability.

• Why shouldn’t students be subject to censorship? After all, commercial journalists are subject to editing.
Editors of commercial media news are not employed by the government; the work they edit is work-for-hire. Student journalists are not employed by the school. School administrators are, in fact, government officials. The First Amendment was crafted to protect U.S. citizens from government censorship. Student speech is protected by the First Amendment, as long as it is lawful and does not cause a “substantial disruption” of the educational process.

The Student Press Law Center provides the legal definition of what is considered, by law, to be “unprotected speech.”

Commercial journalists do not seek permission from their primary sources to publish information and, in fact, have a longstanding tradition of not letting sources see stories before publication. Administrators are primary sources for student journalists. The temptation to censor can be irresistible for administrators, especially in cases when they do not agree with the subject matter or fear that content might reflect poorly on them and their schools.

• Why should we limit the censorship authority of administrators over student media produced on school time with school resources?
Allowing genuine student media outlets that provide students with a meaningful voice on issues that truly matter to them can be a threatening idea to those used to controlling the message. However, we have a First Amendment because, as a nation, we decided that free and independent media play a vital role in our democracy – even if they sometimes are messier than state-controlled media. The fact that student media is produced using school resources does not empower administrators to dictate content. Advisers and administrators are responsible for teaching students so they can make informed content choices.

Fortunately, a number of administrators don’t look upon their student media as adversaries or threats. Instead, they view independent student media as important school assets. They see the value in providing students with forums to express their concerns, and recognize the educational opportunities provided by strong, well-supported student journalism programs.

• Are schools liable for content in student media?
There has never been a reported court decision where a public school or school district has been held legally responsible for content in student media. This legislation ensures that school districts and school administrators are protected from lawsuits. With this law, students would be legally responsible for content in their media – not school officials or school departments.

• Does this legislation give students the right to publish whatever they want?
No. This law does not protect unlawful speech – the same categories of speech that every journalist must avoid (libel, material that invades a person’s legal right to privacy, obscenity as to minors, etc.). The law also imposes an additional category of speech restriction specific to schools: High school students cannot publish speech that would materially and substantially disrupt normal school activities. This establishes a meaningful balance between administrative authority to maintain a safe and effective learning environment and student free speech rights.

• What about the questionable stories published in student media?
Such incidents have occurred, but they are certainly the exception rather than the rule. The majority of student media outlets practice journalism in a responsible manner.

The ability to cover important issues without censorship, promotes a safe and healthy school environment. Students don’t just complain about the cafeteria food. They confront real issues, especially those which are relevant to teens. While it may make administrators uncomfortable, students often cite real safety concerns in their schools. They may cite the need for repairs that have been ignored, especially those that are outside the public view to which students have access, such as locker rooms, student bathrooms and most classrooms. They often bring about change as a result of their vigilance, courage and honesty. The greater good of the students and staff superaedes the reluctance of administrators to hide the truth. They need to be held accountable by the public for not securing a facility properly. Often, board of education members will discover something that they all have read only in the school newspaper, and will investigate the matter once the conditions are exposed.

• What effects do free student media have on the school climate?
School communities need and deserve stories that reflect the authentic student experience. Giving students a voice actually can help guard against disruptive and potentially dangerous behavior by shedding light on issues of concern and empowering the powerless. In fact, coverage of sensitive and important issues often can effect positive change.

• Is there anything, legally, student journalists cannot print?
Yes. The First Amendment does not cover all forms of speech. According to the First Amendment Center, there are essentially nine types of unprotected speech: obscenity, fighting words, defamation (includes libel, slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats, solicitations to commit crimes. For more information, click here.

• What does research report about student learning when they control student media?
A 2015 survey of more than 900 Kansas and Missouri high school journalists indicated students felt more confident about being an engaged and productive citizen where:
• School support of First Amendment protection empowers students
• Faculty and students respect and listen to each other fosters civic journalism
• Lighter teacher control yields greater student confidence
• More practice and experience creates confidence in promoting their involvement
• This matters because empowered student journalists said they felt they would be more critically involved in citizenship responsibilities.

Study results can be found at


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