Pages Navigation Menu

Arkansas student journalists lose publishing rights, regain them, support from other journalists

Posted by on Dec 9, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues | 0 comments


by Jackie Mink, JEA Emeritus member
A recent challenge in Arkansas left a high school’s newspaper censored and prior review started. With support from other scholastic and professional journalism organizations, the school newspaper has now been allowed to publish.

I thought of a line in my favorite book “To Kill a Mockingbird”recently. It was in the courtroom scene when Atticus Finch says to a witness,“You ran to the house, you ran to the window, you ran inside, you ran to Mayella, you ran for Mr. Tate. Did you in all this running, run for a doctor?” As well as wondering why there was no medical attention, Atticus was probably wondering if the real truth may have been discovered if the doctor had been called.

Read More

Stop being afraid

Posted by on Dec 3, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Cyndi Hyatt
The media is under attack.  Although friction between the press and the President is nothing new (John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon all had a cantankerous relationship with the press) this current labeling journalists as the “Enemy of the People” has far reaching effects that may even trickle down to student journalism.

In an era of fear and uncertainty, high school and college students are afraid to express themselves openly because of the possibility of making someone else feel offended or uncomfortable or of fueling heated debate or of being accused of faking the news.  

Read More

FOIA requests

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


Data your school district keeps for its own information or to report out to the state or federal government is an important resource for journalists.

It can reveal patterns and statistics that belie the school’s reputation for better or for worse. It can help reveal positive or alarming trends in student discipline, achievement, attendance or safety.

Students often don’t think about accessing this information, but it can help frame the most telling and informative stories at your school.

Make it part of story brainstorming or beat assignments to regularly have students generating ideas for data they would like to find. For example, after a dog search, how many students were cited? How many times did they confiscate a weapon on campus last year? How many students failed a class last term? What was the breakdown of failures by race or gender? How many suspensions have there been for fighting or drugs this year compared to last year? What are the statistics at neighboring schools?

Students should first request the data they seek in a timely manner, but if the district will not release it, use the SPLC Open Records Generator to file a formal Freedom of Information Act request. The website has a template usable to create a formal legal document requesting the records..

Keep in mind, the district is legally bound to keep some information private. It cannot share the specific names of kids who failed or were punished, & etc.

The use of public  records can bring context,depth to key stories


According to the Freedom of Information Act, students can request information and records relevant to stories at their school. If records are not provided, students should submit an open records request through the SPLC letter generator.

Social media post/question:

FOIA: introduce students to the Freedom of Information act and state open records laws.


As per the Freedom of Information Act, students can request information and records relevant to stories at their school. If records are not provided, students should submit an open records request through the SPLC letter generator.


The Freedom of Information Act is a tool students can use to report on schools and for any public document. Use this to make them more familiar with it.

Government agencies keep data on many topics, and often students can legally access it. Some information must legally be reported and shared in searchable and easily accessible forms. Governments keep other records, which they are only required to release upon request.

The Freedom of Information Act and accompanying state open records laws are important tools for reporters to be familiar with. If information citizens are legally allowed to see is not made available upon request, these tools are the first step in formalizing the request process and informing others of how  to use the law.


U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act website, U.S. Department of Justice

State-by-State guide to Open Records Laws, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Public Records Letter Generator, SPLC



Read More

Editorial policy sets forum status,
decision-making standard and more

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Editorial policy

What is it/definition: Designed to provide legal framework for student media, editorial policies come in two forms, school-board level and media-level. In case of conflicts, a school-board policy usually will take precedence. Absent a policy, practice can help determine freedom of expression status. Typical content of an editorial policy can include:

  • Level of freedom of expression
  • Responsibility for student media content
  • Forum status
  • Prior review and restraint
  • References to guiding legal decisions and theories
  • Language about journalistic responsibility, civic engagement and future of democracy 
Read More

Choosing the right forum can be a make-or-break decision

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Forums protect your expression, audience’s right to know

What is/definitions

Forums come in three types – closed, limited and public/open – and how they are interpreted can make the difference between being censored, reviewed and restrained or being a place of learning citizenship and free expression


Important items of note

The three types of forum and information about them are:

  • Closed forum:

An example of closed is a PTA newsletter. The owner of the forum can control its content. Censorship is allowed. Little learning about the role of a free press in a democracy would take place. Little learning about the various roles of journalism would take place.

  • Students have no expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
  • Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
  • Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
  • Hazelwood applies.


  • Limited public/open forum:

A limited forum can be limited to whatever the establisher of the forum wants it to be: a forum for sports coverage, for example. It can be reviewed, or not reviewed, by the originator’s designation. If reviewed, the owner of the forum has all the legal responsibility and control. If not reviewed, the students, for example, could be designated as being in charge and enjoy the freedoms and bear the responsibility. A good many student media fall into this category where school districts trust their students, their advisers and their curriculum. Students learn about the media’s role in a democracy, and about their own civic responsibility. If education about the media’s role in a democracy and learning critical-thinking and responsibility are the school’s mission, then the second type of limited forum is used.



  • Students have no expectation of freedom of expression
  • Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
  • Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
  • Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
  • Hazelwood applies.



  • Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
  • Students should expect to create original material.
  • Students should expect to make decisions.
  • Tinker applies if no prior review.


Public/open forum:

The third category is an open forum, much like speakers’ corner in the United Kingdom. Anyone can speak, and the school (government) bears no legal responsibility. Schools can designate student media as open forums by policy or practice. This is noted within the Hazelwood decision, as is a limited open forum with student decision-making control.


Within the open and limited forums, students would certainly not publish any materials they found to be unprotected speech — libel, obscenity, material disruption of the school process (Tinker guidelines), unwarranted invasion of privacy and copyright infringement. Students would be taught this through a journalism curriculum by a trained adviser or through workshops and seminars available to an extracurricular publication.


Open forums:

  • Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
  • Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
  • Students should expect to create original material.
  • Students should expect to make decisions.
  • Tinker applies if no prior review.


Importance of designated forum status

  1. There is no requirement that any government agency establish a forum of any kind.
  2. But once a government does establish a forum, it cannot dictate the content of that forum.
  3. Jurisprudence sees three types of forums: open, limited, closed.
  4. The closed forum is a place that traditionally has not been open to public expression. Examples, in schools, could be newsletters or other means of communication not open to public use. So long as restrictions are reasonable and not based on a desire to suppress certain viewpoints, the government may close public access to them.
  5. The open or traditional public forum is a place with a long history of expression, such as a public park or street corner. The government can only impose content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions on speech in this forum. To override the open, public forum status, the government would have to show a compelling interest.
  6. The limited forum has the most problematic history. It is a place with a limited history of expressive activity, usually only for certain topics or groups. A meeting hall or public-owned theater are examples. The government may limit access when setting up a forum but may still not restrict expression unless there is a compelling interest. Schools, as government institutions, may, by “policy or practice,” open student media for indiscriminate use by the public or some segment of the public.
  7. A designated public forum enables students to make decisions of content, thus empowering them to practice critical thinking and civic engagement roles.
  8. Educational value of the designated open forum is mirrored by the fact most schools have mission statements identifying these as essential life skills for students to learn while in school.
  9. Prior review and a lack of trust in the product (students) schools are expected to produce undermines the very missions school officials say are among their most important.
  10. Studies have clearly shown that students, and communities in general, do not understand the importance of the First Amendment. One reason may be that students are not allowed to practice what they are taught while in schools and thus do not believe the theories of the democratic system.


These definitions should help you understand public forums:

  • Forums by policy:An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice:A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.



Students should choose the forum carefully and refer to it in the policy section of your Legal and Ethical manual. It might also play a role in the Mission statement.


Best student practices:

Ideally, after student discussion, student will choose and be able to practice the public/open forum model. That allows the greatest freedom of expression and educational growth because it allows students the most journalistic responsibility and school officials the most protection.


Questionsto ask those who oppose public forum status for student media:

  1. Collect all the documentation you can find to demonstrate why you believe your publication has been operating as a designated public forum.
  2. Ask administrators why they are objecting to/changing your public forum status (and try to get their response in writing). Try to keep the communication channels open so you and students know the reasoning and details.Pay special attention to any statements they make suggesting their actions were in response to something the publication published.
  3. Obtain a copy of the replacement language for the policy if whoever is making/suggesting a change has replacement language.
  4. Find out whether the changes come from the board of education or from administrators. If the board, did it make the changes in an open meeting? If it has not made the decision yet, when will it and can discussion occur?
  5. See if you can find out if and how administrators or the board is receiving legal assistance. Also find how, and if, these people have handled similar cases or incidents before. Being aware of their arguments might enable you to anticipate and counter them.
  6. Know your state’s education codes and state student free expression laws. It is possible you have language that can protect you.
  7. Call SPLC to report the move and ask for guidance.
  8. Seek and prepare individuals and groups (from students, parents, commercial journalists and possibly even a local attorney — preferably one who understands scholastic media law) to ask questions, voice concerns and to be observers of the process.
  9. Prepare a process to keep the discussion about change in the public’s eye


Quick Tip:

Forum status of student media   If your students are revising or developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials.


Quick Tips index   A list of nearly 70 journalism processes showing the interaction between every day journalistic processes and actions and ethical principles.


SPRC blogs

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not,Written by Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State university, this article focuses what makes student media public forums and what does not. Goodman writes, “School officials’ ability to legally censor school-sponsored student expression at public junior high and high schools is determined by whether they can meet the burden the First Amendment places on them to justify their actions. Often the most important question in that analysis is whichof two First Amendment standards they have to meet.” Those standards are Tinker or Hazelwood.



Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine   Establishing your student media as open forums for student expression – not closed or limited forums – can make a huge difference in developing a cure of Hazelwood. The best forum is like preventative medicine. The worst is like being exposed to active disease cultures.



Rethinking your forum status – why the correct wording is essential   With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals on the 2nd Circuit’s Ithaca decision, student media advisers and their journalists should be aware of a potential conflict over how they use the word “forum.” In short, if an editorial policy is going to say student media are forums, students and advisers must be able to explain what that means and why it is educationally important.


Re-establishing our belief in the right forum   Just because the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court recently handed down a decision inR.O. v. Ithaca City School Districtladen with shaky interpretations and references, it is not time to surrender or alter our beliefs.


Maybe #Firstonthefirst initiative can help move the needle   Make a commitment to talk to strangers about the First Amendment. A few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference.


“Drawings of stick figures in sexual positions clearly qualify as ‘lewd,’ that is, ‘inciting to sensual desire or imagination,’” Second Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision about why the school could censor an independent student publication and the school’s student paper, which had attempted unsuccessfully to run the drawing in the first place.


Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism, status as an open public forum   This post looks at a circuit court decision that explains public forum possibilities and values. Also link to Why Dean v. Utica is important.


Letters and commentary can enhance public forum role  Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them. Also,accepting guest commentaries, offered randomly, reinforces student media’s role as a public forum for student expression. This would not include the creation of stranding guest columns for administrations, faculty or other school or city officials.


Don’t let ‘funny things’ happen on the way to your forum   Many scholastic media outlets appear to come up short when developing and posting an editorial policy.  It appears that common practices are to:

  • Just call a publication “a forum.”
  • Call it an open forum.
  • Call it a limited-open forum.

Or if all else fails,

  • Not have a policy at all


Hazelwood’s costs: Open forum status helps win court case, then striped, not returned  Hazelwood stories: by Kevin Smyth “When I joined JagWirein September 2007 as a 51-year old adviser with no advising background, and limited experience as a student journalist, I had no idea I’d become a poster boy for “things that can go wrong your first year as adviser.’ It’s been a difficult story.”



Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review   Even though its current open forum policy helped it avoid a lawsuit earlier this year, the Seattle School District seems determined to change course and install prior review, making the adviser responsible for all content and the administrators able to review at will.



Eliminating prior review  A conversation focused on learning rather than “press rights” may help administrators do away with prior review when students and teachers outline the benefits of student expression that come from critical thinking and problem solving.


SPLC resources:



Other resources:



JEA law/ethics curriculum:



Related Content       | Mission | Policy | Staff manual | Prior review | Prior restraint |  Censorship |


Read More

Introducing a staff manual package to build
a foundation for journalistic responsibility

Posted by on Oct 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


Mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and public forum
strengthen the classic media staff manual

Four concepts drive the creation of journalistic approaches: mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual process. Together, the four comprise a package of complementary principles we call the Foundation of Journalism, often known as a staff manual. Through our discussions, lessons and models, we hope to demonstrate the essential rationale for adding strength them into the Legal and Ethical section of the 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.

This first section provides information and resources on how and why the four parts of  the manual work together, and is below. All five pieces, introduction, mission, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual, are designed to interact and show and why each develop and apply to your school’s student media.


SPRC legal and ethical staff manual

What is it/definition: The SPRC’s manual package contains information and resources that create a framework for a school’s journalism publication and learning program – Mission Statements, Editorial Policy, Ethical Guidelines and Staff Manual process. It also includes resources on forums for student expression.

 Visual to accompany the Law-ethics package. This material has been used at JEA.NSPA conventions to introduce the entire sequence of materials.

Important items of note: JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee presents ideas, models and language, but does not recommend cut and paste of precise wording or inclusion of entire content or model. We also stress the concept that policy and ethical guidelines are different and should not be noted in the same section in the manual.


Guideline: Each student media should have basic statements, a Foundation or cornerstone, compromised of a mission statement, editorial policy, ethical guidelines and staff manual that protects student free expression, explains why that is essential and shows how each element depends on the others. This Foundation should be based on journalistic standards, best practices and encompass journalism’s social responsibility.


Student best practice: Students should make all final decisions of content, without prior review by school officials and be designated public forums for student expression. All pieces should support that premise.


Quick Tips:

Student media policy may be the most important decision you make: Students should understand they can and should adopt best legal and ethical practices for their student media, both at the board and school level.

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?Editorial policies are the foundations for your journalism program. Often short, these statements address forum status, who makes final decisions of contentand prior review. Think of it this way: a strong policy is prescriptive. It says what students will do. A policy is like a constitution and sets the legal framework for student media. We strongly discourage the inclusion of ethical guidelines or procedures and process in policy documents because ethics and staff manual procedures are suggestive.


SPRC blog commentary

Five activities to consider before next fall: Looking for end-of-year activities to rebuild or revisit how your student media operate, the range and effectiveness of content, no matter the platform?

Consider this process at the end of the year or during summer staff retreats, to help students strengthen your program’s foundation.


SPRC blog reporting

The Foundations of Journalism: Policy, procedure, guidelines: These concepts represent best practices. We do not urge copying the entirety of anyone’s policy, including ours. Instead, we urge students and adviser to mold a sound policy based on their school’s needs and identity. Modify our elements in your words.Based on these concepts: no censorship/restraint by any school official, no prior review by any school official, designation of all student media as public forums for student expression and that students make all final content decisions.   

Student voices, student choice:By adopting policiesand guidelinesthat are student voice friendly in policy and practice, schools can further embrace empowerment of student voices and authority.

Building foundations for great journalism:It is critically important to build a solid foundation in law and ethics before sending students out for that first assignment.

Handout: Foundations topic draft form:A planning form for developing ethical and staff manual guidelines.

Building student media foundations with policy and ethics: This project is a two-fold effort to combine policy, ethics and staff manual procedure into an integrated process where policy sets the stage for ethical guidelines and ethical guidelines shape staff manual procedure. It is designed to tie directly to The Foundations of Journalism: Policy, procedure, guidelines.

Build a strong foundation by locking in pieces of the puzzle called  journalism:

Preparing student media for a new year often begins with design — and theme-planning. For a good number this includes summer workshops for training in reporting platforms, visual reporting approaches and the latest in apps and across-platform developments. We hope such training also includes the basics of law and ethics. Often, we fear it does not.

Lesson to help students formulate policies, guidelines and procedures:In this lesson, Students will analyze current policies and write guidelines and procedures. Students will then analyze the others’ classwork and provide feedback. Students will be able to rewrite their contribution after the feedback is given. Students will also audit the publication’s diversity.



JEA law/ethics curriculum:

Ethical Guidelines and Procedure Statements: Creating the Foundation  In this lesson, students will analyze current policies and write guidelines and procedures. Students will then analyze the others’ classwork and provide feedback. Students will be able to rewrite their contribution after the feedback is given. Students will also audit the publication’s diversity.


With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility  Students should have a basic understanding of their responsibility to provide fair, balanced and accurate content that is complete and coherent. From studying examples of content and role-playing on situations that they may have to address, this lesson prepares students for the kinds of decisions they will make with their own publication.


Understanding Journalistic Forum Status  The 1988Hazelwood v KuhlmeierU.S. Supreme Court decision created a need for students and advisers to understand what forum status means for all scholastic media. This lesson defines the three types of forums and outlines what each could mean for students. The lesson also enables student journalists to choose which forum best meets their needs and take steps to create that forum.


Creating a Mission Statement for Student Media  Everyone has seen mission statements that contain “educate and entertain” as key goals for scholastic media. The purpose of this lesson is to create mission statements that go beyond generic wording. Instead, mission statements should help establish who student journalists are, their role, and their purpose. Establishing this framework will also shape audience understanding about media roles, purposes and identity, including the social responsibility role that even student journalists must uphold.



Board media policies:This clip explains why a shorter, simple board-level student media policy is recommended and outlines three clear points such policies should establish.

A combined editorial policy: As more student media programs take a comprehensive approach to produce all types of scholastic media under one staff structure, it only makes sense to combine separate publications policies into one.



Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as a guide for punishment,

Sitemap of inclusive materials, go here

How to Use the List of Ethics and Staff manuals, gohere.


Crafting the Argument Against Prior Review and Censorship

Building the case against prior review and restraint: talking points to help start a discussion between advisers and administrators







Related Content: Mission statements |  Editorial policy |  Ethical Guidelines  | Staff manual

| Prior review | Prior review | Censorship |

Read More