Pages Navigation Menu

News deserts 2/4

Posted by on Oct 2, 2023 in Blog, Law and Ethics | Comments Off on News deserts 2/4


My original blog idea started as a simple little suggestion to encourage high school student journalists to cover school board meetings and educational topics in communities without commercial media – those rural and urban areas considered news deserts. But it’s grown much bigger than that. These will be the weekly installments to follow the story.

Student journalists’ role in reporting on education grows where there are News Deserts  

Part 1: We’ll explore what happened when a student reporter offered a story about her school to a local “news and digital marketing platform.” It was posted – and then….

Part 2: What do those involved with student media legal issues say about this? We’ll talk to the Student Press Law Center about what rights such young journalists have.

Part 3: How do the hyperlocal web outlets see their role when working with students – or do they see that as a possibility at all? 

Part 4:  Are there ways we – advisers and journalism teachers – can help students and communities get vital information, especially about local education? How can we educate those who might be working with student journalists but have no background in scholastic media and student rights and responsibilities?

Part 2 blog

How far off campus does censorship’s impact reach

by Candace Bowen, MJE

The idea of having high school journalists fill the void in communities that have lost their local media sounds simple and fairly logical. This is especially true when it comes to covering school board meetings and issues like building safety. 

If a community has no local media to do this – if the area is what is considered a “news desert” — citizens would have a hard time making informed choices when they vote about local issues. Perhaps publishing more about school curriculum and district policies in area student media and disseminating it to the community would be a good idea. 

Also, in more and more places, hyperlocal often grant-funded news sites are appearing, and they sometimes look for student journalists who are on the “inside” to help with this reporting. Often that’s college students they recruit, but, more recently, it’s also high school journalists. This is a great idea but often has some challenges, as Part 1 of this blog showed.

When a media outlet agrees to print a student article, the long arm of the school might try and even succeed in preventing that from happening. What if the article “makes the school look bad”? What if administrators think they can censor work like that? 

Thus, the question to explore in this week’s blog: Can a school legally censor such student-written stories when they are published by news sites that have nothing to do with the school?

white and black typewriter on white table

“If students are going to be engaging in a total third-party activity in reference to the school district, if it is off campus, not using any sort of campus equipment, not during school hours,” Gaston-Falk said, … these things typically separate the activity from the school district. “The school has less of an expectation, less ability to regulate speech off campus,” he said.

The good news, in a word, is NO, they can’t, according to Jonathan Gaston-Falk, staff attorney with the Student Press Law Center. Even if a student has written about the school district, some things typically separate him or her from being under the school’s control.

“If students are going to be engaging in a total third-party activity in reference to the school district, if it is off campus, not using any sort of campus equipment, not during school hours,” Gaston-Falk said, … these things typically separate the activity from the school district. “The school has less of an expectation, less ability to regulate speech off campus,” he said.

A Supreme Court case from June 2021, B.L. v. Mahanoy, addressed this. According to the Student Press Law Center website, “Of particular concern — particularly since the arrival of social media and other online speech — has been the debate over how much, if any, authority school officials should have over a student’s speech when they are outside of school. This case is about where to draw the line.”

The Court ruled that the Mahanoy school district violated Levy’s First Amendment rights because her SnapChat post, repeatedly using an expletive about not making varsity cheerleading, did not appear to have created a disruption and was created off campus and outside school hours.

Thus, could a school communications officer or other administrator have any legal right to demand a professionally run community news site remove such student work?

That seems pretty unlikely, Gaston-Falk said.

If the adults running those news sites don’t know about students’ First Amendment rights, and the students themselves don’t know their rights, unlawful censorship could easily happen.

Gaston-Falk encourages students, even those working for news outlets beyond their high schools, to contact the Student Press Law Center with their legal concerns.

Adults at the news outlets are also encouraged to contact SPLC lawyers and find out when an administrator’s authority ends inside the schoolhouse gates.

person walking on sand dune

If the adults running those news sites don’t know about students’ First Amendment rights, and the students themselves don’t know their rights, unlawful censorship could easily happen.

Part 3 of the series will explore the knowledge and views of some of the adults who run these websites and how they see their role when working with student journalists.

Read More


Posted by on Aug 23, 2023 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Mission, Policy, Teaching | Comments Off on Questions


Does the start of a new school year always lead to rolling out new procedures, ideas or policies?Should it?

By John Bowen, MJE

Maybe, for instance, a new staff and school year might be an excellent time to revisit publication Mission Statements, Editorial Policy, your Ethical Guidelines and the procedures to carry out quality student media leadership made possible by journalistic responsibility? 

Focus on an important news story reported as school starts.

Banning many things or ideas in schools is not new. Banning cell phones during the school day has a long and varied history of differing positions: 
• Cell phones disrupted the school day.

• Cell phones encouraged cheating.
• Cell phones changed opinions when communities learned they could be useful.
• Cell phones could better alert parents if violence occurred at school.
• Cell phones, and their offspring, Smartphones, enabled students to cheat, to disrupt and to steal, but in newer ways.

Read More

Activities based on media coverage of high school of student working in adult industry

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Lessons, New Voices, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
In my last blog we discussed the importance of fighting prior review, and noted its use is growing, even in states with state legislation protecting student expression.

To emphasize the issue, we highlight recent review attempts with the Bruin Voice of Stockton, California, and related reporting about the student story.

You have a link to the story and multiple links to commercially reported information. To study the original story and reporting on it, we provide possible starting questions for discussion of the concept of review itself and how other reporters covered the original story.

By doing this, we hope not only to create critical thinking about prior review and about how such topics are reported.

The Bruin Voice

Media that reported the story

Writing about teenager who makes sex videos, school paper becomes the news

Bear Creek student newspaper’s controversial story will run as planned

Students express support for Bear Creek newspaper after controversial story publishes

Profile of student porn worker allowed to run in Stockton high school newspaper

Q&A: Teacher facing possible firing over student sex worker profile

Story on high school porn performer sparks censorship clash

District relents, allows Stockton school paper to run story about student in porn

Reporting and information gathering questions

• What are differences in the coverages?

• Are any questions unanswered? What, and who could be additional sources?

• What, if any, bias shows through in reporting, word usage, sources, approach?

• What information is missing? What sources could have provided it?

• Was the best lead used? If not, what alternatives might have been better?

• What background was used? What could have been used?

• What were coverage strengths? Weaknesses?

Legal and ethical questions

• What ethical issues did the reporter(s) have to address?

• What legal issues should be addressed? Were they? If addressed was the reporting accurate, robust and complete?

• Should topics like the Bruin Voice piece be reported by scholastic media? Discuss the legal and ethical issues and how you might handle them?

Our last blog: Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

Read More

Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

Posted by on May 3, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Words and ideas often become scrambled with prior review

by John Bowen, MJE
Unbelievably, prior review seems to be spreading.

It occurred recently in Illinois, California, Ohio, Texas and numerous additional states. It shows no signs of slowing, despite efforts to pass state legislation to protect student expression.

To read about California review and restraint demands, go here. To read the articles in question go here.

Every scholastic journalism organization has opposed prior review and, hopefully, will continue to do so.

Legally, though, prior review is not unconstitutional although prior restraint – censorship – is in some states, Thus, the best way to fight it is with educational principles and the need for stronger civic engagement.

Arguable points against prior review include:

• It limits student intellectual and societal growth

• It delays or even extinguishes the development of journalistic responsibility

• It shackles critical thinking

• It leads historically to prior restraint which leads to mis- and disinformation

• It has no educational value

Yet, it still continues and spreads.

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 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.

It is our responsibility to find and publicize ways to convince those who support prior review why the practice has no place in scholastic journalism.

For our democracy, our educational system and our individual abilities to separate credible information untruths.

To gain traction against prior review, JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee will focus its efforts to provide educational and civic support for advisers, students, parents and administrators so they can best educate their communities.

The resources below represent our initial steps to extend the discussion about the dangers of a practice that historically only led to censorship.


Prior review
What to tell your principal about prior review?

Why avoiding prior review is educationally sound

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics

Definitions of prior review, prior restraint

Prior review vs prior restraint

Questions advisers should ask those who want to implement prior review
Why we keep harping about prior review

Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

Talking points blog and talking points to counter prior review

And much, much more at Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Read More

Students in the forefront

Posted by on Feb 24, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Students who can name one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment earn an appropriate t-shirt from Mary Beth and John Tinker. Represented on stage were Florida, Texas and Iowa. (photo by Candace Bowen)

by Candace Bowen  Third in a series
When anyone tells Mary Beth Tinker that students are the future, she firmly but politely corrects them: “No, they’re the present.”

If the students participating in the #Tinkerversary events this week are typical – and it would seem they are –, the present is in good hands.

Read More

Now things are different in Des Moines

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


John Tinker signs a black armband for two Callanan Middle School students. They told he and Mary Beth about causes that mattered to them. (photo by Candace Bowen)

by Candace Bowen Second in a series

Des Moines schools, how you have changed since early winter 1965.

That’s when a high school principal got wind of a pending Vietnam War protest – reportedly when his school’s newspaper adviser showed him a story about it for the next issue. He and his fellow principals decided suspensions would be the punishment for anyone who did this.

Read More