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It’s not rocket science to proactively demonstrate strong quality, integrity, ethics


by Stan Zoller, MJE

As historic events surrounding President Donald Trump continue to unfold, it’s possible, if not likely, his ongoing disdain for and ensuing attacks on the media will reach a more feverish pitch than what has been seen so far during his first term.

While it’s likely, albeit hopeful, that student journalists will be immune from the seemingly venomous attacks, the possibility remains that there could be a trickle-down effect to the nation’s high schools.

That’s not because scholastic journalists are doing a bad job, but because in hostile times people do not delineate one soldier from another.

The unfortunate reality is while it’s a safe guess most high school journalists have not covered the White House and the Mueller hearings and reported on the Pentagon, to many people the media is the media whether it’s The Washington Post or the Washington Advocate at Washington (Missouri) High School.

The failure to differentiate student media from the pros is problematic because the focus, intensity and sheer nature of high school journalism is unlike that of professional journalism. After all, for many high school students, working on student media is little more than an activity.

If there is a bright spot, student journalists don’t have to shout to defend themselves over the din of a helicopter engine.

But what can they do to re-emphasize in the minds of their stakeholders that they are working as ethical, enterprising and passionate journalists?

While it may seem like a daunting challenge, media advisers and their students need to, obviously, work together to ensure that quality, integrity and ethics are job one.

Stan Zoller, MJE

While it may seem like a daunting challenge, media advisers and their students need to, obviously, work together to ensure that quality, integrity and ethics are job one.

This isn’t rocket science, but rather a needed new reality in the world of today’s media.

Job one is reiterating and re-emphasizing ethical practices. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics should be front and center for student media. Make sure copies are posted in your classroom, and if you have one, “pub room.” Encourage students that if they have doubts about a story to raise them before they write it. Any ethical issues should be discussed with the EIC and, if need be, the adviser.

Sometimes student media outlets are their own worst enemy by not telling the world how they operate. Be transparent about your policies and procedures, especially those associated with fact checking. A little proactivity will lead to greater acceptability of the work your student reporters are doing.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure administrators at all levels know your media philosophy. Also, maintaining the proverbial “open-door” policy will go a long way easing anguish administrators may have about your yearbook, newspaper or website.  Conversely, it’s a good idea to encourage the opposite – make sure your administration has an open-door policy so you can foster a dialogue to ensure free and responsible journalism.

Keeping an administration happy can be a challenge.

Just ask the scribes in Washington, D.C.

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