Pages Navigation Menu

Maybe #Firstonthefirst initiative can help move the needle

Posted by on Aug 1, 2018 in Blog, Featured, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism | 1 comment


Maybe it was last night’s reflection on Anthony Kennedy’s final day serving as a Supreme Court justice.

Or maybe it was because I’m still recovering from the latest State of the First Amendment survey.

In case you missed it, more than one-third of the survey respondents (40 percent) could not name a single freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one out of the 1,009 people surveyed could correctly name all five freedoms.

That blows my mind, and I often think about what I can or should be doing differently to help move the needle outside the walls of my classroom.

So today I began what I’m calling #Firstonthefirst.

I made a commitment to talk to five strangers today and share with them about the First Amendment. I’m going to do it on the first of every month, and I hope you’ll join me.

It’s easy enough to visit with folks in line at Starbucks or the grocery checkout, or colleagues at school, or parents on the bleachers at your kiddo’s sporting event. A few minutes of conversation can make a huge difference. I want the people in my community to know the five freedoms and to have a better understanding of why the First Amendment matters.

To make a visual connection, I wore one of my First Amendment T-shirts, and I’ll do that for each #Firstonthefirst. There’s something about seeing those 45 words (or in the case of this shirt, my favorite of those 45) that makes it more memorable, and I hope to leverage the power of social media to spread this movement and get my students — and all of you — having these First Amendment conversations as well.

Read More

Signing on as FAPFA candidate makes powerful symbolic statement

Posted by on Nov 23, 2016 in Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 2 comments


Confession: For the past 10 days, I’ve spent a good chunk of time glued to media coverage of President-elect Trump, reading about his meetings with prospective leaders and reports of cabinet appointments, cries against Hamilton and SNL on Twitter and updates about the on-again, off-again New York Times meeting.

My nervousness mounts as we transition to a new president known for his attacks on news organizations, for bullying those who ask tough questions, for threats to “open up” libel laws, for ugly rants against those who hold steady to report on the record the actions of our leaders.

And while I’ve made sure to read, donate, sign petitions and facilitate respectful dialogue, I’ve also spent the past 10 days thinking about my journalism students. What can I do? What can we do? What can they do?

As is often the case, the greatest potential for impact is within the classroom. It’s clear to me that my own students’ efforts practicing, protecting and promoting their First Amendment rights matter more than ever.

Next week, Dec. 1, 2016, is the deadline for JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award. I’m glad my students will apply, and here are three reasons I urge other scholastic media programs to do the same:

[1] The FAPFA process provides an important opportunity for students to revisit the core principles of their journalism program as they tell the stories of their school community through truthful and accurate reporting using a wide range of diverse, credible sources. The editors know their publication policies inside and out, but do the other staff members? Would every student on staff be able to answer the FAPFA questions accurately? Perhaps this an opportunity for editors to conduct a mini-lesson to educate or review with rookies some “What happens if …” scenarios.

[2] The possibility of recognition as a First Amendment school is another way to increase awareness in the school and throughout the community. Even if school administrators are supportive of students’ free expression rights both in theory and in practice, it’s likely there are community members who are less aware of what it means for students to make all content decisions free of administrative censorship. It’s another chance to spread the word about what the First Amendment means and why it matters.

Remember, 39 percent of Americans could not name even one of the five freedoms.

Can FAPFA recognition serve to make all stakeholders better understand the educational significance of providing students with an outlet for free expression and the long-term benefits of empowering students with the responsibility of the decision-making process?

Celebrating a school’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award recognition can play a role in the case for scholastic media curriculum development and the long game in protecting both First Amendment education and scholastic journalism specifically.

[3] Signing on as a FAPFA candidate makes a powerful symbolic statement at a crucial time.

My own students have protection from California Ed Code 48907, but they’ll still be using the opportunity JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award provides. In other words, they’ll apply for the award because they can. It’s a chance to speak up and speak out for why that freedom of expression matters so much, and a chance to draw attention to states where students don’t have that right.

Discussing the questions on the first-round FAPFA form reminds students that not every student media program is lucky enough to operate in a student-led environment with journalists empowered by the critical thinking experience of their decision-making process. It puts things in perspective. It emboldens them to use the tools at their disposal, creatively and positively, to fight the good fight. It draws attention to the injustice in schools and states with administrative censorship and helps increase efforts toward press rights legislation.

Editors can proudly share their efforts in attempt to leverage that social currency and widen the scope of attention for First Amendment freedoms just when the New Voices movement — and new White House administration — need it most.


by Sarah Nichols, MJE

Read More

In plain view from public places: Photojournalists and free speech

Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Visual Reporting | 0 comments


freespeechweek_logo_mainWhat can and cannot be photographed continues to fall under question, bringing attention to photojournalists and igniting important First Amendment conversations. As part of other Free Speech Week lessons and activities, teachers may use this opportunity to incorporate key readings and discussion geared toward visual storytellers.

For starters, journalism students paying attention to current events likely caught last week’s story of documentarian Deia Schlosberg arrested while filming an oil pipeline protest in North Dakota. If needed, teachers can engage students in a quick research activity to update each other. Key questions: What’s the story? How does this relate to the First Amendment? How does a photojournalist’s role compare to that of a documentarian?

Photojournalists use the phrase “in plain view from public spaces” to describe in broad terms their interpretation of access and privacy as related to their First Amendment rights. What does this mean? Teachers can consider this as a warm-up writing prompt or partner conversation between students before sharing as a larger group.

To read more about photojournalists and the First Amendment, teachers can assign small groups to read and report on any of these articles:

NYT Lens blog: Criminalizing photography

University of Missouri protest “muscle” incident

Pennsylvania student shooting routine traffic stop

First Amendment Center: Photographs as speech

ACLU: What to do if you’re detained

Police, cameras and the Constitution

To tie in a media literacy component, teachers may add “Photography and the Law: Know Your Rights” from Photojojo. How is this article more or less credible? How does the material compare to the other articles under discussion? What factor(s) affected your analysis?

It’s likely that most journalism classes already discussed this photo from Aleppo and a related article
 back in August, but the connection here is strong between the power of a photo and why the world depends on photojournalists to capture what audiences need to see, regardless of how terrifying, depressing or controversial those images may be.

The National Press Photographers Association offers this statement about its advocacy work protecting photojournalists’ rights.
After reading related articles and discussing efforts underway to protect those constitutional freedoms, teachers may want to present powerful storytelling images that may spark debate about free speech and/or the ethical considerations photojournalists face. One option is to assign students to find and share photos on their own.

Here is a simple list of possible photos and/or photographers to research and discuss:

  • Yannis Behrakis, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography, on the refugee crisis in Greece
  • General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon” by Eddie Adams in 1968
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning photos taken by photojournalist Paul Watson of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu
  • Image galleries showing treatment of Iraq prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison complex
  • “The vulture and the little girl” by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter in 1993
  • “The Falling Man” by Richard Drew during 9/11 attacks
  • “Fire on Marlborough Street” or “Fire escape collapse” by Stanley Forman
  • “The Burning Monk” by Malcolm Browne

From celebrating Free Speech Week and First Amendment protection of what photojournalists can do legally to the ongoing considerations of what they should do ethically, the topic is one worth exploring on a regular basis.

by Sarah Nichols, MJE

Read More

Just This Once: FSW lesson 2

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee released “The Speaker … A Film About Freedom” in 1977. The film, in its original form, comes with a discussion guide. Today, the website for it has the discussion guide and links to coverage about the film and other pertinent articles. Controversial in 1977, the film today hits at many current issues surrounding free speech. Note the date, 1977. Clothing and style reflect that timeframe. It might take students a while to get beyond that and into the First Amendment issues.


“Just this once”


Based on a 1977 film by the American Library Association, The Speaker, on whether a school and its community should allow a speaker to talk on controversial issues. The key question is, essentially, “What is the harm in just this once in preventing a person from speaking an idea.”


  • Students will analyze the questions raised in the film.
  • Students will discuss the issues raised in the film.
  • Students will develop a position based on what they find.
  • Students will formulate possible alternative solutions to the film’s outcome.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).


120 minutes

Materials / resources

Internet access for the film’s background:

The Speaker:

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — introduction (10 minutes)Foundations_main

The teacher should present background to the film from the ALA site and raise the essential question for the activity: “What is the harm in just this once in preventing a person from speaking an idea.” Stress should be placed on the concept of free expression, especially in context with Free Speech Week. The teacher might also have to discuss the difference in clothing and fashion.

Step 2 — Show the film (43 minutes)

Option 1: Show the film in its entirety without stopping for explanation. Students would have to take notes and jot down questions they have.

Option 2: Stop the film at student questions or at teacher-chosen key points for discussion/explanation. This, of course would lengthen the presentation time into Day 2.

Step 3:— Processing the film’s information (7 minutes) (Homework assignment)

Ask students to examine their notes and list key points made for and against the speaker, and to be ready to discuss  the issues and to plan for alternatives.

Step 4 — Day 2 Discussion (25 minutes)

Students will discuss the issues of the film, working toward a conclusion of whether the speaker should speak.

Option 1: Small group discussion with each group reaching a decision which would  have to be resolved in class.

Option 2: Large group discussion with possible resolutions posted on whiteboard for decisions.

Step 5 — Alternatives and solutions (25 minutes)

With their possible solutions of the whiteboard, have students work in small groups to examine alternatives. Is it an either-or dilemma? Are alternatives possible and would they help accommodate all positions? What types of ethical problem solving is possible?  Have the small groups work toward explaining their decision in terms of ethics.

Step 6 — Final discussion (10 minutes)

What surprised you the most? What was the best alternative or solution? How as a journalist should you apply the issues involved?

Assign each student to prepare a 50 word or less statement in the form of a poster of why his or her decision of “just this once” is the ethical stance to take. Statement due the next class.

Step 7 — Assessment

Credit given to student responses in the 50-word statement. Post them in the classroom for continued discussion and possible use in class/staff ethical guidelines.


The  teacher might have students watch the video at home and take notes there, shortening the lessons by one day.


The class could spend an additional day making the issues current by replacing the speaker with a politician/issues from the 2016 presidential election.

Read More

Student free speech vs. adviser job security?

Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Uncategorized | 0 comments


“But what do you do if what they want to publish may cause a problem?” Rachel asked, a little furrow of a frown between her eyes.

She and the other 16 education majors in Kent State’s Teaching High School Journalism course had heard all about the value of a free press from Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism Mark Goodman. He had met with them the week before when I had to miss class. Now I was back, explaining the value of the Tinker standard and re-emphasizing their future students’ First Amendment rights.

Rachel and most of the others felt our passion and wanted to believe, but…they envisioned a lot of “what ifs” for new teachers.

Read More