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Tips for reporting protests

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments



1,800 students, faculty and staff hold hands inthe halls in a unity chain to support Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, March 14. Photo by Theo Yoder, Harrisonburg High, used with permission.

by Candace Bowen, MJE
Covering a protest isn’t like covering a pep rally. The adrenalin rush might be similar, but the consequences are not. With marches in Washington, D.C. and
many other cities, it’s vital for reporters to prepare for what they might encounter.

The Student Press Law Center has helped by focusing on the legal issues involved. But beyond knowing about rights and risks, what else should reporters know? Here’s a list for student journalists covering protests, though by no means a complete one.

  1. Realize you are there to observe and report, gather facts and details, not to participate or support those involved. This is the most important rule when covering a walkout or protest, no matter how sympathetic you may feel towards the cause.
  2. Decide what journalists from your school’s media are going. It’s always better to have more than one. Make sure you’re in touch with your newsroom and with others who know where you are. It’s vital to have a way to communicate with others on your staff covering the event. You might need help with video or audio if you discover an important aspect to cover. You would definitely want to be in contact in case of an emergency. Have a place to meet that’s secure if events become dangerous or chaotic. 
  3. Decide what method of reporting you want to use. Are you gathering information to write a story later? If so, have pen and reporter’s notebook or a smart phone with voice memos you can use. If you plan to tweet the events, discuss ahead of time with your editor how to ensure you are posting accurate, verified information. If you are live streaming, be sure you have the right equipment. Facebook Live works, but here are some other free apps that might be even better. You might also want natural sounds to add to an audio soundbite, so a little higher quality sound app like Voice Record Pro might be worthwhile.
  4. Be prepared for the protest. Dress appropriately for the weather. This may seem obvious, but if you’re wet and cold, you won’t be able to handle your equipment or take notes. Bring snacks like granola bars and water. You don’t know how long a protest will last.
  5. Have and display your press credentials prominently, although doing so could create its own problems. (See #7 below) If you have never had any created for your publication, talk to a local newspaper and see what theirs are like. Make ones that look professional.
  6. Let the police know you are merely doing your job to report what is going on. In previous protests, journalists have been injured and arrested, even when they were following the law. In 2017, there were 23 arrests and 25 physical attacks on journalists, most of them at protests, according to data collected by the US Press Freedom Tracker.
  7. Be aware of the dangers. Sadly, some people today consider journalists the enemy. The crowd may include friends, but counter protesters and others – even the police — could make it difficult for you to perform your job. Rallies earlier this year have included some participants who are armed. If heckled, it’s better to retreat, especially to a spot with other journalists, than to let the confrontation escalate. Be aware of your surroundings. Know where you could go for safety if the crowd gets out of control.
  8. Interview security officers in charge if at all possible, though don’t get in their way. What is the crowd estimate? What is their plan of action? To hold protesters in a limited area? To break up the crowd at a certain time? To do nothing and just monitor the situation unless protesters present a physical threat?
  9. Interview protesters, too. If the event is not in your town and you’re covering a larger protest in a nearby city or if you and those from your school have gone to a major city, make plans to meet at a certain time and place or be sure you have a way to reach them. Their thoughts and words (and photos!) would be most important to your audience, so you need to make sure you get that. Be sure to get names and contact information of resources so you can verify information later.
  10. Think of questions your audience wants to know. What will they not find in the local or national press? Maybe it’s what teens in the crowd think and are doing. Stay around if there’s any police or governmental press conference after the protest is over. Follow up by finding the number of arrests, the crowd estimate and what charges might be filed.

This is important news to cover – so it’s vital to do so professionally, ethically and legally. It’s also important to do so safely.





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SPRC package offers insights
for reporting protests, marches

Posted by on Mar 18, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Bowen
Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a series of daily posts to help students cover upcoming protests.

#NeverAgain will represent many thousands of marchers Saturday, March 24 in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country, and JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee wants to help student journalists be effective and safe as they report on these and future events.

School walkouts March 14 proved student journalists want to let others know what their classmates are doing, and their impressive news articles, video, audio, tweets and other social media certainly did just that.

But what these journalists may encounter if they head to the nation’s capital or even a city nearby is likely to be very different from reporting on 17 minutes of speeches and balloons on the football field with their classmates.

For one thing, not everyone agrees on the ways to stop school shootings and violence. Counter protesters – possibly armed – are not unlikely. Police will be part of the mix.

These days, some people don’t like journalists anyway, which adds another layer of concern.

The Student Press Law Center has legal FAQs for you. We hope to offer useful logistical and ethical information that could make the difference between a frightening and poorly reported experience and something that tells perhaps the most important story of their generation.

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The perks of being a wallflower:
How a school district escaped a lawsuit
by fostering an independent student press QT36

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Quick Tips: Student First Amendment Rights
Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals  

by Jan Ewell
Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit against the district failed. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused two ads.

In 1992 the Lexington School Committee in Lexington, Massachusetts debated making condoms available to students without parental permission. The Musket, the Lexington High School newspaper, ran news articles and editorials on the debate.

Douglas Yeo, a parent and the leaders of a group opposing the condom-distribution policy, complained to the school’s principal about the Musket’s coverage, saying it did not accurately reflect his group’s position. The principal acted in accord with Massachusetts’s law, which gives editorial control to the students under the Tinker standard. He directed Yeo to the student editors of the paper, saying they would make any decisions regarding corrections. He suggested Yeo write a letter to the editor. Yeo did not contact the student paper.

In March of 1993 the voters of Lexington approved the condom distribution policy. In November Yeo and his group submitted a $200 check and a full page ad to the yearbook. The ad read, “ABSTINENCE: The Healthy Choice.  Sponsored by: Lexington Parents Information Network (LEXNET)” followed by a post office box number.

In an editorial meeting considered the ad, the student editors of the yearbook decided it was out of context with their publication; most of their ads congratulated graduates. Some came from family, others from local businesses used by students. The Yearbook had an unwritten policy not to publish political advocacy ads.

Through their adviser (this was before cell phones) they asked Yeo to rewrite the ad to reflect the usual patterns. Yeo refused and threatened to sue the yearbook unless his ad was published as submitted. The students discussed the ad again and decided to stand by their original decision. Yeo apparently felt the students were censoring him and faxed in response, “based on our understanding of the right of equal access and free speech, we do not accept your rejection of our ad and ask that you reconsider your decision to censor it.”

In January of 1994 Yeo submitted the same ad to the Musket, the student run newspaper, with an added line reading, “For accurate information on abstinence, safer sex and condoms, contact.  .  .” The student editors met and decided to reject the ad. Though a number of students at the meeting supported Yeo’s pro-abstinence views, they did not want the Musket to turn into a bulletin board for advocacy on lifestyle issues. Additionally, they were uncomfortably with having to run an ad because someone had threated to sue them.

They wrote Yeo saying that if they had accepted his ad, they “would feel obligated to accept other political statements that might come our way. We do not wish to put ourselves in such position. Ultimately Ad space is not a public forum and for that reason the Musket reserves the right to select what Advertisements it chooses to print.”

Yeo threatened the town and school authorities with legal action. Though the administration wished to avoid lawsuits, they continued to support the students’ control of the content of their publication. This proved fortunate for them because the only forms of government (including schools and the teachers as government employees) are restrained by the First Amendment. If the school, that is, the government, had decided whether to run the ad, they may indeed have violated Yeo’s rights.

The students suggested that Yeo write a letter to the editor; the Letter to the Editor section was a public forum. Yeo refused and insisted his ad be run as submitted, “as is our legal right.” He concluded, “You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t even have to like. You just have to print it. Touché. ”

Yeo did sue the superintendent, the principal, the advisers of the yearbook and newspaper, and the Lexington school committee, claiming that they were denying his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.  He did not name the publication or the students, who in fact were the ones who rejected his ad, but as private entities and as citizens the students and their publication could not violate his First or Fourteenth amendment rights.

Ultimately the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled against Yeo. Student journalists do have the right to refuse ads. They are not government agents. Since only the government is in a position to violate the First Amendment or the Fourteenth, there was no suppression of Yeo’s rights.

Furthermore, the court ruled that the school district was not responsible for the students’ decisions. “As a matter of law, we see no legal duty here on the part of school administrators to control the content of the editorial judgments of student editors of publications.”

Under Massachusetts law, the students control the content of the student publications. At Lexington High School, the policy and practice had been for the students to make editorial and business decisions. School officials were not responsible for those decisions, and so there were no First or Fourteenth amendment violations.

The district was protected from judgment in the suit because the students controlled the student media.

And yes, both publications changed their unwritten policy concerning political advocacy ads into clear written policies.

Note: This is not a Supreme Court Case. In May of 1998 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting the First Circuit Court’s decision stand. It is the law in only the First Circuit, that is Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island, but it has been cited as a persuasive precedent in similar case.


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What, students have rights? Since 1943
(West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette)

Posted by on Nov 1, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Quick Tip27: Student First Amendment rights

by Jan Ewell
Before the Barnette decision, when students came into conflict with public schools, the courts decided their cases—often against the students—without mentioning students’ right. They considered if the punishment was excessive (beating with a rawhide strap was okay in 1859). They also debated if it was the parents’ right or the schools’ right to discipline the students. The First Amendment was never mentioned.

Gathie and Marie Barnett* were attending Slip Hill Grade School in Charleston, West Virginia, when America entered World War II in December, 1941. The school district installed flags in classrooms (replacing pictures of flags) and required all students to salute the flag. The West Virginia State Board of Education passed rules in January 1942 requiring the flag salute and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, which Congress would formally adopt June, 1942.

The Barnett family, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, felt the practice of saluting the flag was a form of idolatry and would be a violation of their religion. As Gathie said some 60 years after the case, “We were taught that bowing down to the flag, saluting it, was like a bowing down and giving reverence to it—it was like an idol. So we believe definitely not to worship idols.”

If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official high or petty shall prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by work or acts their faith therein.”––Justice Robert H. Jackson

The Supreme Court released its decision in the students’ favor on Flag Day, June 14, 1943.

The decision: Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote these memorable words in favor of students’ rights: “If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official high or petty shall prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by work or acts their faith therein.”

Though the Supreme Court did not specifically address student press rights until 1988, the Barnette case is essential to student journalists. It limits the government’s ability to restrict religion, the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. It found public schools are the government. It established that students as young as elementary school are protected by the First Amendment .

Justice Jackson wrote, “That we are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.

*A court clerk misspelled their name as Barnette


West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette

Related issues and cases:

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Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review? QT26

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE

JEA historically has opposed prior review of student media by school officials.

That opposition continues.

Prior review leads only to control, active censorship and iis the first step toward the spread of fake news and less than complete disinformation. 

Students and advisers, though, may have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what might the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommend for consideration until adviser and students, and maybe school officials, create a way to trust and empower student decision-making and civic engagement as designated public forums.

Consider these possibilities:

As journalism teachers we know our students learn more when they make content choices. Prior review and restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism or to become more journalistically responsible.

As journalism teachers we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to train them and for that responsibility.

As journalism teachers we know democracy depends on students who understand all voices have a right to be heard and have a voice in their school and community.

Thus, to help students achieve professional standards, journalism educators should consider the following process:

  • Encourage transparency about who determines the content of a student publication by alerting readers and viewers when student media are subject to prior review and restraint;
  • Advocate for the educational benefits of student press freedom if student media are subject to prior review or restraint;
  • Provide students with access to sources of professional advice outside the school for issues they need to address;
  • Attempt to follow and support JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics;
  • Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, students build trust in the learning process and the theories on which it is based;
  • Encourage students to seek multiple points of view and to explore a variety of credible sources in their reporting and decision-making;
  • Coach instead of making decisions, modeli the value of the learning process and demonstrate the trust we place in our educational system;
  • Empower students to understand what journalistic responsibility requires and how to achieve credible journalism where prior review and restraint are not necessary;
  • Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, scholastic journalists increase dialogue and help ensure civic engagement;
  • Use peer editing to encourage student interaction, analysis and problem solving;
  • Instruct students about civic engagement and journalism’s role in maintaining and protecting our democratic heritage;
  • Showcase student media where the dissemination of information is unfiltered by prior review and restraint so the school’s various communities receive accurate, truthful and complete information.

While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can support philosophically, the SPRC reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as tools in the educational process.

Even though we offer tQuick Tip below as a temporary measure for those who face prior review or have no choice about prior review, this process is not a pathway to building stronger student media and ultimately more engaged citizens.


Quick Tips: When prior review is your only choice

Guideline:  While students and advisers, who have to operate under prior review, work toward changing that situation, they should also believe in, and support, those who practice journalism as a designated public forum.

Question: What policies should you negotiate when you are stuck with prior review?

Key points/action: JEA historically has – and does – oppose prior review by school officials. It is an unacceptable practice with no educational value. Prior review only leads to control, active censorship and the first steps toward fake news and less than complete disinformation.

It is possible, though, students and advisers have no immediate choice but to be under prior review by school officials.

The question then becomes what the SPRC would recommend until adviser, students and school officials, provide all involved (students, advisers, faculty, administrators, school board and communities) with a better learning environment than prior review.

Stance: While students and advisers work toward a no prior review goal, we would suggest these steps toward an alternative:

  • Student media are identified and practice as designated public forums for student expression where student editors and staff make all final decisions of content.
  • Before publishing or posting pages/broadcast/web materials, administrators have the length of a school day (the day they are given materials) to review content and to ask questions. Materials should be given in a timely manner.
  • All content must return to students’ hands at the end of the day, on schedule, for publication.
  • If administrators/school officials have questions, they may request meeting time within that day, which will not delay publication.
  • School officials may comment, ask questions or request changes.
  • All final decisions remain with the student journalists as they meet their deadlines. They can choose to heed school officials requests or suggestions or go with content as it was.

Reasoning/suggestions: If review is to help students learn and to identify areas of administrative concern rather than content control, this process should provide adequate opportunity for discussion and collaboration – and keep the journalistic process on track.

Student critical thinking, decision-making and application of learning objectives across the school’s mission remain intact, creating time for a more permanent forum practice to be forged.

Resources:  SPRC

Prior review

JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package that protects journalistically responsible student expression.





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Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism,
status as an open public forum

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


 Dean v. Utica Community Schools, 2004

Quick Tip 25: Student First Amendment Rights

by Jan Ewell
The principal of Utica High School told the student newspaper, the Arrow, to cut an article by student journalist Katy Dean, as well as an accompanying editorial and an editorial cartoon. The students had written about a couple, Rey and Joanne Frances, who were suing the school district. They claimed idling diesel buses in the school garage next to their home had caused the husband’s cancer.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allows administrators to censor for “legitimate pedagogical concerns.” The principal said that the articles were based on “unreliable” sources and that the article was “highly inaccurate.” Perhaps these reasons were given as his legitimate pedagogical concerns.

The students published a black box with the word “Censored” across it in white lettering, and an editorial on censorship. A local newspaper later published Dean’s censored article.

The case was decided in the United States District Court in Katy Dean’s favor because of the Arrow’s status as a limited public forum, and on the quality of the journalism.

Establishing a Public Forum in Practice and Policy

The judge ruled that the student paper was a public forum, even though it was produced by a class for school credit. He used the nine criteria established in Draudt v. Wooster.[link] Because it was a public forum and therefore under Tinker v. Des Moines not under Hazelwood, the principal had violated the students’ rights.   

To determine if the paper was a public forum, the judge looked at the practice of the publication.  In its 25 year history, the officials at the school had never intervened in the editorial process of the publication. The students had no practice of submitting content to school officials for prior review, nor did the faculty adviser regulate the topics the newspaper covered. In practice the paper was a public forum.

School policy also supported the “Arrow’s” status as a public forum. The curriculum guide and the course descriptions provided evidence that it should enjoy the protections of Tinker.

Clarifying When Censorship is Permissible Under Hazelwood

Though the judge ruled the paper was under the Tinker standard, he also closely examined the censored article by Katy Dean using the Hazelwood standards of fairness, research and writing.  He found that, even under Hazelwood, “the suppression of the article was unconstitutional.” The school officials had claimed the work was “inaccurate” because they disagreed with the opinions of people quoted in the story. What the district called “inaccurate” was simply an attempt to disguise “what is, in substance, a difference of opinion with its content,” the judge wrote.  Even under the Hazelwood standard, the officials had violated the students’ rights.

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” –– Harry S. Truman

In his decision, the judge quoted President Harry S. Truman: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

He also quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.”

Dean v. Utica shows two avenues for student journalists to free themselves from Hazelwood. The first is to be a public forum in either “policy or practice.” The second is to produce high quality journalism.


Dean v. Utica Community Schools

Why Dean v. Utica is important

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