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The importance of staff edits:
critical thinking, leadership QT 38

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 in Blog, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Student editors are busy. In addition to leading their staffs, making publication decisions and helping reporters, they are likely also still reporting and creating their own news content — not to mention carrying a full academic high school load.

Given all of these responsibilities, it’s easy to see why writing an unsigned staff editorial might seem a lower priority than getting the next edition to print or finishing that great feature on the new student body president.

But these editorials represent a unique and powerful opportunity for the board to be leaders in their school communities, and editors tempted to skip writing them should reconsider their priorities.

As overseers of all publication content, school news editors know more about what’s going on in their communities than just about anyone else in the school. As they read each article and listen with a journalist’s ear to what’s happening around them day-to-day, they can see patterns and problems most people cannot, adults included.

Coming together as a group, they can choose meaningful topics to address and think critically about what they want to say about those topics as a board. Once they reach a majority opinion on the topic, they can write collaboratively on a Google doc or take turns writing the first draft and then edit that draft into a clear, concise final piece.

Because staff editorials are unsigned, they carry more weight than a single writer’s opinion and may have greater impact. Well researched, authoritative editorials are powerful tools for change in a school community, and editorial boards should make them a priority.


Student journalists should act as candles lighting issues within their communities as well as mirrors reflecting current events. One way to enact this leadership is for the student editorial board to write regular unsigned editorials to advocate, solve a problem or commend. Editorial opinions should be clearly labeled and separate from the news section and should not affect objective news coverage.

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Does your student editorial board write regular unsigned editorials? If not, they are missing an opportunity to lead.

Reasoning/suggestions: Student media show leadership in many ways, and one of the most traditional is through concise, focused and authoritative statements of well-argued and supported opinion which represent the institutional voice of the student media. These editorials are a unique opportunity for student leaders to give voice to student perspectives on important topics. Editorial board members who take this process seriously and write consistently can advocate for change, serve as calls to action or commend positive conditions. Because staff editorials are unsigned, they carry more weight than a single writer’s opinion and may have greater impact.


Quick Hit: Picking a topic for staff editorials, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Quick Hit: Staff editorial process, JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Mirror, mirror on the wall,” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Where have the leaders gone?” JEA Scholastic Press Committee

Editorials under attack, Student Press Law Center

Explained: why newspapers endorse presidential candidates, Dylan Baddour, Houston Chronicle

They need the freedom to make mistakes, too,” Lindsay Coppens, JEA Press Rights Committee

Reading newspapers: Editorial and opinion pieces, Learn NC

Video: How to write an editorial, New York Times

Writing an Editorial, Alan Weintraut


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Illinois civics law reinforces
value of journalism education

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE
The successful passage and subsequent signing by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner of legislation that mandates a one-semester civic education course for high school students provides more than ‘just another’ social science course.

It re-enforces the importance of journalism education.

Throughout the process, The Illinois Task Force on Civic Education cited the need for citizens to be civic literate. One way to achieve that? News literacy.

The task force noted that:

“Responsible citizens include individuals who are informed and thoughtful. They have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have and understand the importance of news literacy; have an understanding and awareness of issues impacting their communities; have a capacity to think critically; and have a willingness to enter into dialogue with others about different points of view and to respect diverse perspectives.”

[pullquote]Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.[/pullquote]

The impact on journalism educators is simple: informed and engaged news consumers need to receive news reports that are independent, free of bias and provide information that is not only accurate, but also verifiable and transparent. The task force noted that a civics education course needs to offer students more than content; its needs to include skills, especially those related to news literacy.

Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.

Does this validate the need for a journalism course? Not solely, but it is a message that administrators need to hear. Ethically produced journalism that embellishes the basic fundamentals of news literacy has a new goal – at least in Illinois – to provide news consumers, as Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach note in “The Elements of Journalism” information that people need to live their lives and to also understand the world. They also write that it needs to be “meaningful, relevant and engaging.”

To achieve this, the need for student reporting to be ethical and adhere to media laws is at a new high. That’s because students, like other news consumers, are no longer just looking to be entertained, but informed so they can become not only active at school, but also in the civic process as well.

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Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out

Posted by on Aug 23, 2014 in Ethical Issues, Scholastic Journalism, Yearbook | 1 comment


What’s best for students? We return to that essential question constantly as decision-makers in every realm of education. In the “yearbook yikes” dilemma featured in this month’s Ethical Educator column in School Administrator magazine, the solutions address what may be best for one student but fail to mention what’s best for many others.

Where are the student editors in these discussions?

The opportunity to plan and produce student media is a valuable learning experience from start to finish. The communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking students on a yearbook staff experience continues well beyond the final page submission. Deciding how to handle the altered photo and ethical lapse is an essential piece of their learning.

Because students should be responsible for all content decisions, they also should be accountable to their audience and to each other. If the superintendent takes action to remedy the yearbook error, students are deprived of a major lesson in critical thinking and decision-making skills tied to journalistic standards and civic responsibility.

Ideally, student journalists address those standards and responsibilities long before producing even a single yearbook page by creating publication policies. With guidance and support from a trained journalism teacher, students define and put in writing what they stand for and why. The policy then serves as a guide — a commitment to themselves and their audience — for all future decisions. It includes what they will cover and why as well as how to handle errors, omissions, corrections and more.

If the students involved in the “yearbook yikes” dilemma have no such policy, this is an important lesson for them. Instead of removing students from the solution, administrators should empower them to figure it out and so they learn and grow from the process. As editors identify who was responsible for the altered photo and how to handle it (both internally with consequences and improved staff procedures as well as publicly and with the affected student), they can reevaluate their process and make it right.

Plenty of great resources exist to aid in this process, such as the Model Code of Ethics from the National Scholastic Press Association, which charges student journalists to be accountable with a commitment to admit mistakes and publicize corrections. The Society of Professional Journalists also offers an extensive collection of policies journalism teachers can use with their students in these important discussions. The bottom line is that this dilemma affects many more students than just the one pictured in the yearbook, and administrators should consider the long-term effects as well as the shorter-term needs of addressing a parent complaint.

As a student media adviser, I know firsthand the inaccuracy of Sarah MacKenzie’s claim that “… most yearbooks are already gathering dust on shelves only to be retrieved for class reunions, if at all.” Even months after distribution day, students cart yearbooks to school events, pull them from their backpacks daily, poring over pages together to read stories and carry them on vacations to review the personal memories, photos and details of times passed.

That’s all the more reason student editors should strive to meet journalistic standards and operate with integrity, and absolutely why student editors should be accountable for their decisions, including determining the best solution to this and any other dilemma. With a stronger emphasis on their “why” as a staff, training and support from a qualified adviser and empowerment to solve problems based on their own critical thinking, students learn important lessons and make better decisions.

And that, of course, is what’s best for all students.

Sarah Nichols, MJE, M.Ed
teacher/adviser, Whitney High Student Media
2010 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year
vice president, Journalism Education Association

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Scholastic journalism enhances critical thinking, exploration and leadership;
Hazelwood promotes none of it

Posted by on Jan 18, 2013 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Bob Button

Hazelwood stories: The Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood is arguably the worst blow to scholastic journalism in our lifetime – primarily because it struck a hammer in favor of control and against education in America’s schools. 25 years of Hazelwood art

Having grown up in an era when student newspapers were seen as PR tools for the school, when I moved to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for a full-time journalism position, I asked my new principal in our first meeting what the guidelines were for what could and could not be printed.  He looked at me and said, “I thought that was why we hired you!”  That was in the late ‘60s, just as students were beginning to challenge everything.

What followed was a career supporting students as they explored topics of interest or importance in their lives – even if they were potentially controversial – and encouraging students to cover subjects in depth or take a stance in editorials or columns with a full understanding of the issues involved.  That is critical thinking at its best and it promotes leadership.  Never did an administrator tell us we could not cover a subject, even if it put the school in a poor light.  But with freedom comes responsibility.  We made some mistakes, which led to one of the first staff-written editorial policies in the country, putting in writing the student editorial board’s responsibility for serving the newspaper’s readers.

Students cannot learn critical thinking if that thinking is limited arbitrarily.  Students cannot learn responsibility or leadership if they have no freedom to make decisions.

Too many principals then and now think they teach responsibility when they exercise control.  They do not.  They simply relieve students of responsibility.  When students have no control, they respond either by acquiescence to the demands of those in power or by challenging the power in some other way.  Neither is a desirable outcome.

With the Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood, many principals simply maintained the control they had always exercised, or established control they had relinquished under Tinker.  My principal didn’t change a thing.  Hazelwood does not mandate control – it permits it – and my principal was more interested in education than in control.  But in the 25 years since Hazelwood we have a whole generation of administrators who see control as their first priority, of teachers forced to be concerned first and foremost with test scores, of students who think of school newspapers as an exercise in innocuous comment.

Sure, there are wonderful administrators, great teachers and challenging students fighting the good fight.  But Hazelwood promotes none of it.

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Beyond SJW: an education for reality

Posted by on Feb 27, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Fern Valentine, MJE


During Journalism week, and every week for that matter, we need to stress the unique learning opportunities a publication class offers, unique learning they will be able to utilize no matter where they head after high school.

For example, while law is mentioned at least in social studies classes, in publication classes the students learn first hand the opportunities and limitations of U.S. law including, of course, the First Amendment, but also copyright, libel, etc.   They learn to check out their legal questions with free advice from the Student Press Law Center.  They learn to use their rights responsibly investigating topics of interest to their audience.

Speaking of their audience, instead of their teacher as an audience to their writing, publications staffs have their peers and other readers as their audience, making them take special care in getting everything right. Students learn to edit copy and apply all those grammar and punctuation rules they have been taught, but, in other classes, only their teachers have corrected.

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