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Start the year strong while
promoting students’ press rights

Posted by on Sep 10, 2018 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Lindsay Coppens

The Harbinger Adviser, Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, Mass.

Although we may want to jump right into the business of putting out the first print issue or filling the website with killer content, there are steps you as an adviser can take at the beginning of the year to help your publication’s staff start strong while fostering their independence. These steps all connect with communication and establishing good relationships.

• Have a meeting with your editors-in-chief and the school principal.

It’s always a shame and usually doesn’t bode well if the first interaction between editors and administration is a negative one. Start off the year with good communication and establish a good working relationship with your school’s administration. While you may act as a facilitator at the meeting (or hopefully  just sit back and listen to most of it), it would be best for the student editors, not the adviser,  to contact the administrator for this meeting. This emphasizes the principal and editors should be the ones directly communicating most of the time, not the adults.

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Ways to celebrate Constitution Day 2018

Posted by on Aug 18, 2018 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The Scholastic Press Rights Committee is again excited to provide lesson plans and activities to help you celebrate Constitution Day and the First Amendment. Constitution Day recognized Sept. 17 each year, and we have a trove of new and archived lessons and activities to help you raise awareness of the First Amendment’s rights and applications for students.

Take a look at the new lessons:

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Reporting stories student journalists
can best tell

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
The above statement is a good reminder or our social responsibility to report all aspects of teen issues – those with good, bad and impact – because our audiences  have a right to know.

These are stories student journalists can tell best.

As journalists we do not actively protest, lead walkouts or engage others We examine issues and events with diverse points of view, in context, accurate and complete that might as effectively create change.

We are mirrors to reflect events and candles to illuminate causes and issues that surround us, like the March 14 and March 24 planned protests, marches and discussions initiated by student reactions to the shooting deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Our journalistic leadership should not prevent expression of our personal feelings and views. Our first obligation is to the truth as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in The Elements of Journalism.

“A community that fails to reflect  its community deeply will not succeed,” the authors write in Elements, third edition.”But a newspaper that does not challenge its community’s values and preconceptions will lose respect for failing to provide the honesty and leadership newspapers are expected  to offer.”

In this case and others, student media can best tell that story.

We lead when we channel our insights into reporting so communities – or societies – can make intelligent and informed decisions affecting our democracy.

To assist students as they report events and issues surrounding walkouts and protests, local and national, the SPRC begins a series of blogposts focusing on protest in America, its relevance and why student media should make every effort to report on its deeper issues.

We start our discussion with the following links and will continue March 19.

  • Covering controversy  Controversy is often in the eye of the beholder. The best way to prevent a subject from becoming controversial is to use verifiable information, in context, from reliable sources – truthful, accurate, thorough and complete reporting. Students should be able to show why they used some information and not other. They should be transparent about why their coverage was important.
  • Practice sensitivity in your reporting  How do we, as today’s information consumers and creators, sift through the rumors, the gossip, the failed memories, the spin to capture something as accurately as possible? How can we overcome our own limits of perception, our biases, our experience and come to an account people will see as reliable. This essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. Controversy is in the eyes of the beholder. Our job is make sure anything controversial is reported thoroughly, accurately and coherently.
  • Respecting privacy and public space important for photographers, too  Student journalists should never invade the privacy of others while accessing information or photos for a story.However. it is their journalistic duty to know what constitutes invasion of privacy or what spaces they are legally allowed to access and what spaces they are not legally allowed to access. Student journalists should check the legal and ethical parameters of public space and the latest recommendations for journalistic activity from the Student Press Law Center.
  • Student Press Law Center online guide and resources for student journalists The new resource page is just one of several major steps SPLC took to ensure student journalists can cover protests, walkouts and the growing gun control discussions freely and fairly. See its news release:
  • Covering walkouts and protests   From the SPLC, this guide provides helpful information student journalists reporting protests and walk-outs.



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A class activity to learn
both law AND ethics

Posted by on Nov 2, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby Candace Bowen
“The first lesson she asked me to teach is lawnethics,” the excited student teacher said, adding more slowly, “But now I’m not exactly sure what that is….”

Sadly, she wasn’t alone in a class of education majors who would soon be licensed to teach journalism in a large Midwestern state. In fact, ask some teachers already in the classroom, ask their principals, and, while they would know it’s not all one word, they might be hard pressed to explain the difference between LAW and ETHICS.

But not knowing the difference makes it difficult to teach these two concepts effectively. They are separate fields, though they do overlap in theory and practice, and plenty of journalistic situations require us to assess both legal and ethical components.

So let’s look at them carefully. The simplistic definition says, “Law tells us what we COULD do, and ethics helps us decide what we SHOULD do.” Other definitions point out laws are passed by governing bodies of a town, state or country and breaking a law has specified consequences. In other words, you can be punished for not following the rules.

Ethics, on the other hand, is more about an individual or team process to arrive at the best way to act for the situation. According to the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, “Ethical questions arise most typically in cases where there is genuine puzzlement about what should be done in various types of situations. There is usually some practical importance or urgency to such questions. Is it ethical for journalists to reveal their sources to the courts, despite their promises of confidentiality? Is it ethical of journalists to invade the privacy of politicians to investigate allegations of unethical conduct?”

It’s impossible to spell out all the ethical options because situations constantly change, and what works in one situation may be wrong in another that’s somewhat similar. Journalists need guidelines to help them make ethical decisions, but hard and fast rules won’t always work.

That’s why so many organizations have ethical guidelines that are flexible. Read the SPJ Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable and Transparent. It says nothing about firing a journalist for using an unnamed source or setting up an undercover sting, but the bullet points under each of these main tenets give the media some guidelines.

The Principals Guide to Scholastic Journalism also helps explain the difference between law and ethics and includes an extensive list of links to valuable resources.

Experienced journalism educators usually find it more effective to teach legal issues first, then ethical, because that’s the approach journalists take in the real world. What COULD we do? Would we be libeling someone if we printed that? If it’s illegal, go no further. But legal situations may have ethical implications. SHOULD we use the victim’s name? What about the accused? Both names? Neither name?

JEA’s law and ethics curriculum follows that same organization (for JEA members only). Even the three-week module handles the First Amendment, court cases, unprotected speech (libel, copyright, invasion of privacy), reporter’s privilege, FERPA, FOIA, before “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should” and additional ethics approaches.


Copy shot provided by the artist

Hypotheticals are a one good way to get students to look at a situation’s legal and ethical issues, like this one about a piece of art and how the student newspaper could and should report it:

As an art class project, the teacher told her students to create a scratchboard drawing, either from imagination or using a photo as its basis. Tammy used a picture in a school board-approved book, The Family of Man, that depicted a woman balancing a basket on her head. The art teacher thought her finished product was wonderful and wanted to put it in a display case at the end of the art hallway, but she wasn’t sure she could — the woman was nude from the waist up. When the teacher asked the principal’s opinion, he said, no, don’t hang it in the hall. Tammy was furious and so were some of the newspaper staff when they heard the story. Would you cover this incident? How? As an editorial? A news story? Whom would you interview? Would you consider running a copy shot of the photo? What would the principal likely say? First, think about the legal issues — is it obscene? Is it a copyright violation? Any other possible laws you might break? If nothing is legally wrong, what about the ethics? What is your reason for running it? (Download the picture here)





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Build a strong foundation by locking in
pieces of the puzzle called journalism

Posted by on Sep 27, 2015 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



Part 1 of a series  on fitting the pieces of the journalism puzzle:
Knowing where to start

by Candace and John Bowen
Preparing student media for a new year often begins with design- and theme-planning. For a good number this includes summer workshops for training in reporting platforms, visual reporting approaches and the latest in apps and across-platform developments.

We hope such training also includes the basics of law and ethics. Often, we fear it does not.

Because we believe a basic understanding of legal and ethical issues is key to the puzzle of a successful year of sound journalistic media, we’d recommend the solid foundation of journalism basics to support the 2015-16 year and beyond.

Ensure students understand their legal rights and responsibilities before publication and provide them with activities and resources to prepare them for the rigors of publishing and decision-making.

Our training list to start the year and continue through it would be organized something like this:
• Outline the goals and mission of your student media
Like a road map, a goals and mission statement frames direction for student media. A mission statement presents the underlying principles student media adhere to. Goals suggest specific accomplishments used in following the mission. Both establish the how and why for students and communities alike. Like a road map, students may choose different paths from year to year but the outcome stays fixed: thorough, accurate and credible journalism.
– New values (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
April Fool’s Editions, “Don’t be a fool” (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
Balance and objectivity (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)
The role of student media (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
The role of the adviser (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
–  Mission statement development  (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

– JEA Model Mission statement (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

• Train staff and editors in legal principles across platforms
Even though students might embrace online media, legal and ethical basics provide a framework for digital media now and what is yet to come. While there might be some changes, the basics of unprotected speech and the importance of knowing legal background won’t change in the foreseeable future.
– Law of Student Press, book from the Student Press Law Center, also available on Kindle
Student Press Law Center
– JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Public forum overview (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
 Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism (Quill & Scroll and JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
– Legal Guides (Student Press Law Center)

• Ensure board- and/or publication-level policies are in place
Strong board of education level and publication editorial policies reinforce principles student media use to reach their mission. Strong and effective editorial policies, carefully worded, protect not only student media but also school systems if legal issues arise. Lack of careful wording is worse than no policy at all. Policies reflect the publication’s values and commitments. Ideally, the most effective policies establish student media as designated public forums, without prior review and where students make all content decisions.
The Foundations of Journalism: policies, ethics and staff manuals (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Board of education- and publication level- models (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Board media policies (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute) 
Why avoiding prior review is educationally sound (Quill & Scroll Principal’s Guide) 
Eliminating prior review (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)

• Train staff and editors in ethical principles across platforms
Even though students might embrace online media, ethical basics provide a compass for print and digital media now and for what is yet to come. Practice in and knowledge of ethical critical thinking provides principles for journalistically responsible reporting. Reinforcement of ethical practices builds student publications steeped in ethical fitness.

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Online ethics guidelines for student media (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
Questions student staffs should discuss before entering the social media environment (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)
SPJ Code of ethics (Society of Professional Journalists) 
Critical thinking, ethics and knowledge-based practice in visual media (Journalist’s Resource)

• Establish, for online or print, a content verification process
While this might have been part of skills-oriented summer workshop training and practice, its importance goes without question. Verification, credibility, context and accuracy are the reporting cornerstones of journalism. Each is rooted in establishing a rigorous ethical process.
Planning and gathering information/producing content (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Getting it right (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)
Journalism as a discipline of verification (American Press Institute) 
Verification (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee)

• Clarify who owns content
To avoid issues if someone tries to sell your yearbook content online or you want to sell photos, determine ahead of time who owns the content of student work. It’s important to plan this ahead of incidents.

– Who Owns Student Content? (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Back to School: Who Owns What? (Student Press Law Center) 
– Contribution to Collective Work U.S. Copyright Office

• Develop guidelines for handing takedown demands if online
Fielding requests for takedown demands is increasingly a decision student media have to make, either from reporters after they have left school or from sources because they do not like the story. Choices are limited, and involve ethical thinking.

Takedown demands (JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee) 
Responding to takedown demands (Student Press Law Center) 
Takedown requests (JEA SPRC Press Rights Minute)

Without an understanding of rights and responsibilities – the “could we?” and “should we?” of producing media, staffs can have the most attractive layouts imaginable and captivating story-telling, but they could still make legal and ethical mistakes that would ruin their chance to produce anything else for their audience.

Part 1: Build a strong foundation
Part 2: Careful preparation creates strong mission statements
Part 3: Points to avoid

Part 4: Fitting the pieces into a strong Foundation


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