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Advocacy and journalism:
coexistence or natural conflict?

Posted by on Apr 19, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
Initially came the mass shooting of 17 students and school staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Students and scholastic media reported the issues surrounding the shootings and the followed student protests, trying to make sense of it all.

Then came discussion among journalism educators about student advocacy and journalism. Should the two travel together? Can they coexist in the same newsroom?

Now is the time to assess those questions, and more.

In a chapter titled “What we need from the ‘Next Journalism'” in their book, Blur, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel  look how questions like these might identify purpose, roles and focus of media in the future.

“Strip away platform. Strip away technique. Strip away culture,” they write. “What function does a newsroom serve in its community? What is its essential purpose, apart from generating revenue?”

Student journalists raised the essence of that question when they reported social issues and events surrounding the shootings at their school. Thousands of other teens, some student journalists, joined in, bringing praise as well as anger, ultimately participation innational marches and protests.

Journalism educators  prepared their students not only to report the events and the issues, fulfilling their social role  responsibility. They also embraced the leadership aspects of journalism by guiding students as they made coverage and action decisions.

Mix the leadership and growth of student voice with the concept of journalism as advocacy and we create debate on the essential purpose and role of scholastic journalism.

After all, muckrakers like Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens and Ida M. Tarbell rerouted the scope of journalism.

Perhaps this present confluence of two major points – change in journalism and a regrowth of advocacy – can fuel the expansion of New Voices and propel scholastic journalism into examining issues and potential solutions.

“Telling stories is not the answer. Neither is delivering the news, or even monitoring government. All those have been a part of it historically,” Kovach and Rosenstiel state in Blur. “But we think the essential function is something broader and more conceptual, and the future of journalism depends in part on embracing the broader notion.”

The authors specifically mention verification, synthesis and making sense of information presented as parts of that larger notion of essential journalism.

It is time to expand the discussion to include the broader notion of scholastic journalism’s future roles and whether advocacy is among them..

In the next month or so we will develop and discuss what these potential changes might mean to scholastic journalism, provide background and perspective and share activities and lessons, grow discussion and spread possibilities.


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Stories students can best tell:
Reporting protests, walkouts and marches

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in Blog, Featured, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Between March 14 and March 24, the SPRC shared legal and ethical guidelines as well as coverage suggestions for reporting walkouts, protests and marches.

Because the topics are still ongoing and current, we’re loading all of our advice under one banner, for your convenience.

If you have other questions or examples of coverage you would like to share here, please submit them through the comments section below.

We intend to add material as needed or available.

Students, join movement to make change: Mary Beth Tinker
Legal issues in covering protests
Tips for reporting protests
Tips of audio reporting of protests, walkouts
Plan and pack for social media coverage of protests
More than a march: a civics lesson and a wake-up call
SPRC package offers  insights for reporting protests, marches
Reporting stories student journalists can best tell

Shared materials 

• Eric Garner shared this collaborative documentary created by the students of WMSD-TV at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as students and alum from schools across the country. It covers the days after the incident as the school begins the rebuilding, and healing, process.

• Coverage by Harker School of San Jose and San Francisco student marches.

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More than a march;
a civics lesson and a wake-up call

Posted by on Mar 25, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Students lined up outside Buffalo Grove High School in Illinois re watched by security. Photo by Stan Zoeller, MJE, and SPRC committee member.

by Stan Zoller, MJE
The walk-outs by thousands of high school students on March 14 did more than call attention to a revamping of the nation’s gun laws, they also provided Americans with several other things.

A wake-up call.

A civics lesson.

And a realization that high school students today are doing what high school students did when I was in high school — speak up and demand to be heard.

When Baby Boomers were in high school, we dealt with Vietnam, equal rights for women and the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18.

Vietnam was popular with very few people while the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the lowering of the voting age in Illinois via Project 18, sparked

divisive debates across generations.

The murders of students by gunfire appears to be no different as they seem to be awakening a generation that

discovered it has a voice that needs to be heard.

Parents, politicians and school administrators need to listen.

Two high schools in my hometown allowed students to participate in the March, although in different ways.

One allowed students to congregate only near the main entrance. The entire campus was off limits to anyone with one security office saying it was because the march was a “school event,” which make no sense. Neither does the comment by another security officer who said I wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures because many of the students were minors.

The district’s official position, said the district’s communications supervisor was “the District decided to restrict access to our campuses for a brief period this morning to ensure the safety and security of our students during this morning’s walkout. The decision to briefly restrict access is also in line with how most schools in the Chicagoland area handled the nationwide walkouts.”

She added that “These displays were student-led and peaceful, and our student leaders did a phenomenal job making sure everyone was back in the building when the 17 minutes were over.”

Spoken like a true flack.

It’s interesting that she said, “The decision to briefly restrict access” was “in line with how most schools in the Chicagoland area handled the nationwide walkouts.”

According a spokesman for the other school, “We had an estimated 2,000 students participate in the walkout (today). We reached agreement with the student organizers to have an organized march starting from the “circle drive” entrance and heading south along the building to the Garden of Peace, Hope and Remembrance. From there, students walked into the alley behind the school building to go back inside and return to class. The walkout went off without incident.”

While the school blocked its main entrance, access was available through a second secondary entrance without any problem.

The need for tight security is understandable. The display of local police officers at the first school was unprecedented for a “school event” – even the truck enforcement officer was there.

By limiting students — as many districts did – including one which allegedly told students they could march if they didn’t say anything political, are educators limiting the opportunity for students to become civically engaged?

One Chicago area district, Downers Grove District 99, reportedly issued nearly 1,000 detentions to students who were brazen enough to participate in marches at Downers Grove North and South high schools.  The detentions, according to one media report, were in an auditorium where there were conversations about gun violence.

A nice gesture, but what is the result of these conversations? Student voices need to be continuously heard in public, by the public and by lawmakers – not just by school administrators who are bent on control issues.  Gun violence is not the first issue to fire-up student voices.

A rash of shooting of African-American men in 2014 sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement and was fueled by demonstrations and outcries le by young people who wanted their voices heard and action taken.

Which raises the question – is squelching student voices the best practice if we want today’s high school students to become more civically engaged?

This is not the first generation of young people to push for change.  All administrators need to do is crack open a history book and, as Mr. Peabody would say, “set the way-back machine, Sherman.”

They’ll find that what goes around comes around as it did in the Vietnam era of the 1960s. Students at the collegiate and scholastic levels were relentless in their actions and messages. Today’s students need to have that same relentlessness and resiliency, so their concerns become actions in the nation’s statehouses and in Washington, D.C.

People – whether students or not – need make sure their voices are continually heard and not silenced by overzealous school administrators or PAC-induced lawmakers.

People’s voices, not silence, will make a difference.

But only if people listen and act before it’s too late.


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Legal issues in covering protests

Posted by on Mar 23, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Mark Goodman, Knight Chair of Scholastic Journalism
The 1960s earned a reputation as the decade of protest: the Vietnam War, equal rights for African-Americans, women and gays. But the 2010s are on the way to rivaling the 60s as a decade of protest, especially for young people.

Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, #metoo, anti-gun violence and New Voices have not just been social media campaigns. They have resulted in on-the-ground protests, in and around schools, that student journalists have done their best to cover.

Reporting in the midst of protests can present a unique set of legal issues. One of the most important questions for journalists engaged in protest coverage: what rights do the protesters have to engage in their protest?  Are public school administrators or law enforcement officials legally able to stop or limit their activity?  (Remember, the First Amendment is only a limitation on the government. Thus private school officials do not infringe on First Amendment rights by their actions.  However students in two states, California and Rhode Island, may have protections under their state laws.)

The legal rules regulating protests may be different depending on whether the protest occurs on campus or off. In the community, students or adults engaged in protest have the same First Amendment protections: they can’t break the law by engaging in violence or impeding traffic or public passage on a sidewalk, for example.  But their right to voice their views is entitled to protection.

At school, expressive activity is subject to greater limitation but still is protected by the First Amendment. The general rule used to justify censorship of student speech at a public school is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

[pullquote]The legal rules regulating protests may be different depending on whether the protest occurs on campus or off. In the community, students or adults engaged in protest have the same First Amendment protections: they can’t break the law by engaging in violence or impeding traffic or public passage on a sidewalk, for example.  But their right to voice their views is entitled to protection.[/pullquote]

In that 1969 case, the court said a public school must tolerate student expression at school unless school officials can show the speech will invade the rights of other students or create a material and substantial disruption of school activities.  Invasion of the rights of others is typically defined as libeling someone or invading their privacy.  Material and substantial disruption most commonly translates to some kind of physical disruption of classwork or extra-curricular activities.

So what kinds of protest activities could result in punishment under this Tinker standard?  Advocacy of violence or engaging in vandalism, participating in an unapproved walkout or otherwise failing to participate in classes are possible examples. Thus student protesters may choose to walk out of school but a school is probably legally justified in punishing students who engage in that form of protest.

What is clear is neither school officials or police can punish protesters simply because they are motivated by a desire to protest.  The punishment issued for walking out of class or blocking a street as a means of protest can be no greater than the punishment received by those who engaged in the same offense for non-protest-related reasons.

For example, the student who leaves school to attend an anti-gun violence rally can’t be punished more severely than the student who skips class to get fast food for lunch.

At many schools and in many communities, journalists have been given some special authorization to operate on the scene of news events like protests.  For example, some law enforcement agencies will issue press credentials to journalists affiliated with a legitimate news organization that may make it easier for journalists to do their job.

If such a credentialing process exists, student journalists should take advantage of it.  When it doesn’t exist, many newsrooms have created their own “press passes” that journalists can wear or show if needed when covering a protest.

The benefit of a press pass is it can help with one of the biggest challenges for journalists: distinguishing yourselves from the protesters. The more reporters or photographers look like protesters, the greater the likelihood they will be treated like them and could be subject to the same limitations.

Journalists have private lives as well and may want to be involved in supporting causes.  But they cannot ask to be treated like a journalist, with any special recognition that may provide, if they are engaging in protest at the same time.

Press credentials are one valuable tool for the journalist in avoiding legal problems when covering a protest.  But there are other tactics that are equally useful.  It’s valuable for a news gathering to fully understand where he or she has the right to collect information.

[pullquote]Journalists have private lives as well and may want to be involved in supporting causes.  But they cannot ask to be treated like a journalist, with any special recognition that may provide, if they are engaging in protest at the same time.[/pullquote]

As one would expect, public spaces are fair game.  Protesters in action on a sidewalk or city park (or even a school athletic field) have no reasonable expectation of privacy and cannot object to their activity being reported on or filmed when it occurs there.

But protesters who meet in a private home to discuss their plans for their next big event would have a reasonable expectation of privacy and sneaking into their meeting could be an actionable invasion of privacy.

Ultimately, a student news organization most wants the ability to meaningfully cover a protest.  Having conversations in advance with school officials and/or police about the unique and important role of journalists in documenting the events can sometimes help avoid problems before they arise.

The reality is some of those in authority would prefer there was no media coverage of protests. They may believe it encourages others to join in the protest or they may disagree with the message of the protest altogether.

The ability of public school officials to limit student press coverage of protests is guided by the same standards that apply to other acts of censorship: the Supreme Court decisions in Tinker and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988).

Hazelwood only applies to school-sponsored venues for student expression like student media when those media outlets have not been operating as designated public forums.  (Public forum means student editors have been allowed to make their own content decisions. That status can be determined by either school policy or the practice of how the publication has traditionally operated.)

For a non-forum publication, Hazelwood says school officials could censor if they can show their censorship is based on a reasonable educational justification.  That standard, still much debated, gives a significant amount of ability to censor to school officials, but it’s not unlimited.

Before they could censor a factually accurate story about a protest, administrators would have to show their motivation wasn’t based on disagreement with the views of the protesters but instead was based on some legitimate educational concern.

For student news organizations operating as designated public forums where students make the content decisions, the school’s ability to censor is much more constrained.

[pullquote]For student news organizations operating as designated public forums where students make the content decisions, the school’s ability to censor is much more constrained.[/pullquote]

As with the protesters themselves, the school would have to show the media coverage caused a material and substantial disruption of school activities or a legal invasion of the rights of others (the Tinker standard). That’s a difficult test for school officials to meet.

And, of course, if a student journalist is working in one of the 14 states[1] that have enacted a student free press law (Washington state joined the list just this week!), the school would have to comply with the provisions of that state law before it could censor as well.

As with all media law questions, students and their advisers should go to the experts when they have questions about their legal rights and responsibilities in covering protests: the Student Press Law Center.

Check out the SPLC’s valuable guide to covering protests:

[1] Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

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Tips for reporting protests

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Teaching, Uncategorized | 0 comments



1,800 students, faculty and staff hold hands inthe halls in a unity chain to support Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, March 14. Photo by Theo Yoder, Harrisonburg High, used with permission.

by Candace Bowen, MJE
Covering a protest isn’t like covering a pep rally. The adrenalin rush might be similar, but the consequences are not. With marches in Washington, D.C. and
many other cities, it’s vital for reporters to prepare for what they might encounter.

The Student Press Law Center has helped by focusing on the legal issues involved. But beyond knowing about rights and risks, what else should reporters know? Here’s a list for student journalists covering protests, though by no means a complete one.

  1. Realize you are there to observe and report, gather facts and details, not to participate or support those involved. This is the most important rule when covering a walkout or protest, no matter how sympathetic you may feel towards the cause.
  2. Decide what journalists from your school’s media are going. It’s always better to have more than one. Make sure you’re in touch with your newsroom and with others who know where you are. It’s vital to have a way to communicate with others on your staff covering the event. You might need help with video or audio if you discover an important aspect to cover. You would definitely want to be in contact in case of an emergency. Have a place to meet that’s secure if events become dangerous or chaotic. 
  3. Decide what method of reporting you want to use. Are you gathering information to write a story later? If so, have pen and reporter’s notebook or a smart phone with voice memos you can use. If you plan to tweet the events, discuss ahead of time with your editor how to ensure you are posting accurate, verified information. If you are live streaming, be sure you have the right equipment. Facebook Live works, but here are some other free apps that might be even better. You might also want natural sounds to add to an audio soundbite, so a little higher quality sound app like Voice Record Pro might be worthwhile.
  4. Be prepared for the protest. Dress appropriately for the weather. This may seem obvious, but if you’re wet and cold, you won’t be able to handle your equipment or take notes. Bring snacks like granola bars and water. You don’t know how long a protest will last.
  5. Have and display your press credentials prominently, although doing so could create its own problems. (See #7 below) If you have never had any created for your publication, talk to a local newspaper and see what theirs are like. Make ones that look professional.
  6. Let the police know you are merely doing your job to report what is going on. In previous protests, journalists have been injured and arrested, even when they were following the law. In 2017, there were 23 arrests and 25 physical attacks on journalists, most of them at protests, according to data collected by the US Press Freedom Tracker.
  7. Be aware of the dangers. Sadly, some people today consider journalists the enemy. The crowd may include friends, but counter protesters and others – even the police — could make it difficult for you to perform your job. Rallies earlier this year have included some participants who are armed. If heckled, it’s better to retreat, especially to a spot with other journalists, than to let the confrontation escalate. Be aware of your surroundings. Know where you could go for safety if the crowd gets out of control.
  8. Interview security officers in charge if at all possible, though don’t get in their way. What is the crowd estimate? What is their plan of action? To hold protesters in a limited area? To break up the crowd at a certain time? To do nothing and just monitor the situation unless protesters present a physical threat?
  9. Interview protesters, too. If the event is not in your town and you’re covering a larger protest in a nearby city or if you and those from your school have gone to a major city, make plans to meet at a certain time and place or be sure you have a way to reach them. Their thoughts and words (and photos!) would be most important to your audience, so you need to make sure you get that. Be sure to get names and contact information of resources so you can verify information later.
  10. Think of questions your audience wants to know. What will they not find in the local or national press? Maybe it’s what teens in the crowd think and are doing. Stay around if there’s any police or governmental press conference after the protest is over. Follow up by finding the number of arrests, the crowd estimate and what charges might be filed.

This is important news to cover – so it’s vital to do so professionally, ethically and legally. It’s also important to do so safely.





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