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Adviser will have to OK anonymous sources,
school board cites journalism standards

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoStudent media advisers at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey must now give prior permission for student journalists to grant anonymity to a source according to a revised policy the board of education adopted April 28.

The criteria an adviser might have to determine, according to an article at, consists of “the credibility, motivation and bias” of sources in “accordance with generally accepted journalistic standards.”

The adviser must also know the name, contact information, background and connection to the story. The report also noted the adviser, “except as required by law,” could not reveal the identity of an anonymous source to the faculty, the administration or board of education.

While the journalistic standards cited were not defined, the use of unnamed sources can raise ethical questions. Generally, it is the students who raise these questions  and make the decision whether to grant anonymity. Journalism editors granting anonymity under certain circumstances has historical precedent from Watergate to other instances where a source’s identity might need protection.

And, if student media is truly designed to be a learning experience and forum for student expression where students make all decisions of content, that should be students’ decision.

Events that led up to policy changes in student media involved the use of unnamed sources dealing with personnel issues.

Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, quoted in the story, said, “The practical result will be banning anonymous sources, particularly in stories reflecting negatively on the school district, since no employee of the school will want to come forward and say that she vouches for the credibility of a source leaking damaging information about her supervisors.”

Standard practice, LoMonte said, would not involve the adviser.

In ethical guidelines the SPRC endorses, students would make the final decisions whether to permit sources to be anonymous.

The SPRC knows of no scholastic media program in which the adviser would make that decision.

Administrators at the school and superintendent levels supported the board decision in comments, reported.

“We believe this policy and regulation fully support our school-sponsored publications, that they will continue to be recognized as award-winning models of excellence,” board of education Barbara Garand is quoted

Additional coverage of the sequence of events at Northern Highlands High School:
New Jersey adviser resigns from position after censorship controversy
Formerly censored article published in New Jersey newspaper after school board and principal give OK
New Jersey school board will vote Monday whether to uphold principal’s censorship
After stalling vote, New Jersey high school’s publication policy remains unclear

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Two examples showing the need to protect
the information gathering process

Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoWhen a school system tells students in a new policy it proposes that it wants student media to train students in journalism, it might be time to cheer.

But not when, in the same policy, it calls for student media “to foster a wholesome school spirit and support the best traditions of the school,” and reinforces prior review.

That is the case, according to a Student Press Law Center article published Sept. 30, about what’s going on at Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey.

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Constitution Day 2013 teaching materials and lessons

Posted by on Sep 1, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Lori Keekley
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission 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, and is a commission of the Journalism Education Association.

We designed our Constitution Day lesson plans to help students 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.

Constitution Day is Sept. 17, and you might want to work these lessons into that timeframe.

The first lesson requires students to use online sources to guide them through several legal points. Students then work through three authentic scenarios regarding their press rights.

The second lesson allows students to explore the conflict of reporting the truth when that truth may have consequences. Students work with several leading questions and apply them to several scenarios.

The third lesson acts as a starting point for those who are in need of creating a staff manual. Students will explore several terms including responsibility and accountability.

The fourth lesson is a package on sourcing includes five lessons on use of sources, attribution and verification, with each segment raising ethical questions about the information gathering and presentation process. Included are:

The use of anonymous sources
Effective use of sources
Comparing sourcing and verifying of information in digItal and print stories
Quick hits: Checking your sources, evaluating and verifying them
Quick hits: Critical thinking not only on effectiveness of the lead but also on the credibility and value of the information.

We also will publish Talking Points for Advisers to discuss prior review and restraint with their administrators. The release of this document will coincide with Quill and Scroll’s new, to-be-released onlineedition of the Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism.

We are confident these lessons will interest students and help student journalists better practice their art. As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Lori Keekley
For JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission and the Constitution Day Committee
Constitution Day Committee
John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)
Megan Fromm, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University (MD)
Kelly Furnas, CJE, Kansas State University (KS)
Mark Goodman, Kent State University (OH)
Lori Keekley, MJS, St. Louis Park High School (MN)
Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)
Chris Waugaman, MJE, Prince George High School (VA)

We also will publish some Talking Points for Advisers to discuss prior review and restraint with their administrators. The release of this document will coincide with Quill and Scroll’s to-be=released edition of the Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism.

You still have access to past Constitution Day materials:

2012 materials, part 1
2012 materials, part 2
2011 materials


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In articles of substantive reporting, use anonymous sources?

Posted by on Apr 21, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments


The use of anonymous sources continues to raise issues within journalistic circles.

Given our recent post on the importance of substantive reporting at the scholastic media level, we find this article, Are you really willing to go to jail over your anonymous source? by Poynter’s Kelly McBride interesting and full of important discussion points for scholastic classrooms.

Given the need for more such reporting on teen-related issues, it should bring valuable discussion. Let us know how the discussions went.

For more information on the use of anonymous sources and disclosing sources, go to:

• Use anonymous sources with care
• Welcome to the sausage factory
• Anonymous sourcing

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Tweet14: Use anonymous sources sparingly

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments


Tweet-14–Use anonymous sources sparingly and have good reason for doing so. #25HZLWD

For any journalist, using anonymous sources creates a true predicament—one in which the newspaper’s credibility is on the line, and the reporter takes full responsibility for the authenticity and accuracy of whatever the anonymous source says.  This is a difficult and precarious situation to be in, and it is one all student publications should enter only after careful consideration.

• Guide to using anonymous sources

How do you know when using an anonymous source is appropriate and justified?  Consider our tips for using anonymous sources, and then be sure to create your own staff policy that dictates how and when anonymous sources are OK.

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