Pages Navigation Menu

Facing takedown demands requires
thoughtful planning of guidelines

Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoBecause student media takedown demands continue to grow and the JEA listserv recently discussed issues that could be involved in information takedown,  JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee reposts guidelines to assist students and their advisers who face these requests.

We agree with the Student Press Law Center’s Executive Director Frank LoMonte who said the SPLC has shied away from telling people a ”right way” to handle takedown requests, leaving the decision to their editorial discretion.

So, instead of a single guideline, we offer this set of resources to help students make informed choices.

In all situations, we recommend the SPLC’s existing work on the subject. We hope these guidelines will offer a roadmap if your students face takedown decisions.

Even more importantly, we believe in establishing guidelines to evaluate information before it is posted: Put Up recommendations might prevent facing unsatisfactory decisions later because a 15-year-old did not consider the implications of an ill-chosen comment or questionable image.

We urge advisers to train student reporters to verify information and use credible and reliable sources as more effective approach than taking down content.

If students decide information must come down, this resource from The Poynter Institute suggests thoughtful alternatives to just taking something down.

Below is a model ethics-staff manual statement, as part of our Foundations of Journalism policy-ethics-staff manual package. Such a statement or one similar, should be part of student media’s ethical guidelines and staff manuals.

Takedown requests
Ethical guidelines
Journalists may be asked to remove online content for any number of reasons. Just because content is unpopular or controversial does not mean a media staff should comply with such requests. When journalists meet their goal of producing consistent, responsible journalism, they likely will choose to leave the content in question online even in the face of criticism.

All media – including student media – provide a historical record of issues, events and comments. As such, content should not be changed unless there are unusual circumstances.

Staff manual process
Content should not be removed unless the student editorial board determines it is factually inaccurate or was otherwise factually, legally deficient at the time of publication. The staff manual should provide a checklist or guide students can use to determine whether a takedown request has merit.

• In some cases, student editors may take down a story because they determine the content warrants a one-time exception (such as fabrication or to protect a source).
• Reporters may elect to do a follow-up story.
• If student editors choose to remove content, they should publish a note on the site explaining when and why the content was removed.
• Takedown criteria should be outlined and explained in the staff manual.
• Create guidelines and procedures to ensure students only post information and images they feel meet standards of responsible journalism: Put Up guidelines.

5 Ways News Organizations Respond to ‘Unpublishing’ Requests, The Poynter Institute
Takedown Demands: Here is a Roadmap of Choices, Rationale, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Respond to Takedown Demands, Student Press Law Center
Setting Criteria Before the Requests Come, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
10 Steps to a Put-Up Policy, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Audio: Takedown Requests, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute

Read More

Policy sets standards and staff manuals
ethically carry them out

Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby John Bowen
It’s 3 p.m. Friday, and the final deadline is in four hours.

At issue is a package covering a controversial subject of growing importance in the community.

The staff is divided. Some want to publish the story because it is controversial, important and will create needed community discussion. Others say there has to be more balance and perspective, with all credible sides represented. Production skids to a halt as the debate heats up.

Larger questions exist:
• What are the publication’s guidelines for handling controversial topics?
• What are the dangers of negative community and administration reaction, even intervention?
• Should anonymous sources be used? How to trust them?

Most helpful to this staff would be a strong board-level policy supporting student expression. Next would be a process-oriented and ethics-based staff manual.

Having editorial guidelines and staff manual, though, does not mean they are right or effective.

In the last year, we have seen:
• Instances where having too much information in a policy can lead to unforeseen consequences, including censorship;
• Instances where wrong wording created inaccurate interpretation and potential intervention from outside the staff;
• Instances where items presented with policy can lead to procedures interpreted as policy.


We now see a need for strong board-level media policies. We see a need for separately sectioned, but linked ethics statements and staff manuals.

That led us to new models for media policies and staff manuals and a project we call Foundations of Journalism Package.


Those instances led to a change in thinking about editorial policies and staff manuals.

We continue to see a need for strong board-level media policies. But we also see a need for separately sectioned, but linked ethics statements and staff manuals.

That leads us to new models for media policies and staff manuals and a project we call Foundations of Journalism Package.

The project has three components: policy, ethical guidelines and staff manuals.

Editorial policies – the principles

Editorial policies, says Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University and former executive director of the Student Press Law Center, are like double-edged swords.

“Carefully drafted,” Goodman said, “policies can be used to cut the bonds of censorship. If not carefully worded, however, they can ultimately create more trauma for advisers and students than having no policy at all.”

“If your school has one giving student editors content control,” Goodman said, “that policy can effectively exclude your student media from the limitations of Hazelwood.”

Ethical process       

Ethical principles, rooted in legal principles, set a publication’s ethical compass and create what Rushworth Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, called “ethical fitness.”

Right-versus-wrong choices, Kidder said, were matters of law. Ethics involve right-versus-right choices.

“Right versus right, then,” he wrote, “is at the heart of our toughest choices. Right-versus-right teach us depth in shaping our deepest values.”

The ethics portion of the package should be designed to guide decision-making for student media. Guidelines should be presented as “should” statements, not “will” or “must.” An ethical code is not legally enforceable because it represents guidelines, not rules.

Staff manuals

A strong and effective staff manual implements policy principles and ethical guidelines. It is the procedure that stems from these and describes day-to-day actions.

Staff manuals are like working encyclopedias: They provide information as wide as handling sources or as narrow as how to interview children.

Staff manuals change as students or advisers change. Because change only affects the staff, manual procedures should not appear with board policy. Each year, staff members have the opportunity – and obligation – to revisit the staff manual to see it serves their needs and those of their audiences.

A good staff manual creates a road map students can easily apply.

Look for our Foundations of Journalism Package in the upcoming days for our policy-ethics-staff manuals project.

Look for our Foundations of Journalism Package in the upcoming days for our policy-ethics-staff manuals project.

Responsible journalism, truly the cornerstone of democracy, starts at the scholastic media level. We hope our updated policy, ethics and staff manual changes enhance that process.

Over the past year, the SPRC has seen situations where unclear policies, sometimes mixed with staff manual language and ethical guidelines, have created misunderstanding between advisers, students and administrators. We have designed a Journalism Foundations Package to attempt to eliminate those misunderstandings.

Look for its posting using this graphic in the
next several days.

Read More

Reaching out: Informing the community about key principles of journalism

Posted by on Mar 20, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Marina Hendricks, SPRC member

Recently, I drafted the following plan for student journalists to use to educate their communities about the role of school publications as forums for public criticism and compromise. I did so as part of my ongoing work for “Social Role of the Mass Media,” a Kent State University online graduate course this semester taught by John Bowen.

“In a world where millions are spent annually by those wanting to influence public opinion, it is crucial that the news media play the role of honest broker and referee as it carries the common discussion. … So journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil write in “The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.”

“Yet in a new age, it is more important, not less, that this public discussion be built on the same principles as the rest of journalism, starting with truthfulness, facts, and verification. For a forum without regard for facts fails to inform,” the authors add.

Scholastic journalists are often hindered in their efforts to provide public forums for criticism and compromise by administrators, district officials and other well-meaning adults whose desire to safeguard schools and their students leads to acts of prior review and restraint. Students at large may not understand and appreciate their First Amendment rights, which undermines their support for the public forums of expression provided to them through their school publications. Local media professionals and local citizen may not understand and support the role of school publications as public forums in the community at large.

To address these issues, student journalists could organize a series of outreach activities. These events could be scheduled on a regular basis – once a month, once every nine weeks, once a semester – whatever best fits the school publication’s schedule. More frequent activities could take place during homeroom, lunch, breaks or other open periods during the school day. Less frequent activities could be scheduled after school, in conjunction with other events (such as parent-teacher conferences, PTO meetings, etc.), on Saturdays or even as part of a community fair or festival.

Activities could include:

1) An open house in the newsroom for anyone interested in the school publication and how it operates;

2) A scholastic journalism fair to showcase the work of student journalists in the school district, to raise First Amendment awareness and to provide training opportunities for student journalists;

3) Visits to feeder schools to train and network with aspiring young journalists;

4) Presentations to the faculty senate, PTO, booster and alumni organizations, the local school district board and local organizations to raise awareness of the school publication and its role in the school community;

5) Educational sessions with local media professionals, moderated by student journalists, to help members of the school community learn more about issues that interest them;

6) Operating booths at local events to raise awareness of the school publication, its role in the school community and the First Amendment;

7) Expanding distribution of the school publication (local library branches, malls/shopping centers, community centers, restaurants, etc.) to raise awareness of its role in the community;

8) Forming a parent booster/support group for the school publication;

9) Designating a “reader advocate” to handle questions, concerns, story suggestions, etc.

10) Preparing a “press kit” for school organizations to help them understand how to submit information, news releases, story ideas, requests for photos, etc. (Then, deliver it in person so members of the organizations can ask questions.)

*Note: We welcome your additions of outreach that work to this list. List them, plus your school, in the comments section below.




Read More