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Need help with censorship issues? Press the Panic Button!

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Those looking for guidelines to prepare state groups to pass free expression legislation now have a draft document package to work with.

The Scholastic Press Rights Commission has completed a draft version of its Blueprint for Success: Promoting Scholastic Right Rights Legislation, and makes that information available in time for the JEA/NSPA Seattle convention.

The commission welcomes comments and suggestions before it publishes a final version in the coming months.

The Blueprint can be downloaded here or from a link in the right-hand menu under state legislation on this site.

Several additional legal and ethical sites are also worth noting:

Back issues of the Student Press Reports. Found at Issuu, this site gives everyone access to information from The SPLC Reports, the Student Press Law Center’s magazine, since it started. Well worth time to just browse or look for information to support local reporting.

The Panic Button. Found here, The Panic Button links you or your students directly to assistance and information about handling  an issue of censorship. Members of the Scholastic Press Rights Commission and 45Words students will respond quickly, offering suggestions and providing information as your students and others plan a strategy to handle censorship.

The forum map. This map, a project of The Center for Scholastic Journalism,  is a list of schools the Center has determined to be open forums for student expression, either by policy or practice. The purpose of the map is to enable journalism programs seeking to become open forums to have models and contacts to assist in the quest.

Application to be on the forum map. This writable PDF is your way to apply to have your school recognized as an forum by policy or practice.

Certification map. This map shows requirements for teaching journalism in 49 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and links to each state’s department of education.

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Online ethics guidelines for student media

Posted by on Nov 6, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments


As student media staffs explore digital media to gather information, tell stories, promote their work and handle comments, they will encounter ethical questions both familiar and unique.

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The Seattle decision: providing ammunition for student responsibility. Part 1

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


By H. L. Hall

In what might be a landmark decision, a Superior Court judge in Washington ruled July 22, 2011, in Sisley v Seattle School District #1, that public high schools are not liable for the content of student-produced newspapers.

Student Press Law Center spokesmen have said this ruling is the first to ever establish liability protection at the high school level. They think this presents a case for allowing students to make content decisions, as a school district should not have to be concerned about being sued.

Although the decision in this case is not the law of the land, it has the possibility of becoming so, as Sisley is appealing. The appeal process could take six months or more.

It is imperative JEA follow the appeal procedures because additional rulings could have great impact on school publications throughout the country. This ruling could lead to less censorship because school officials would not have to worry about liability.

In the meantime, the Scholastic Press Rights Commission offers teaching materials so you can discuss the decision and its implications with your students now. Included here are:
• A lesson plan by Chris Waugaman on the decision
• A PowerPoint by H. L. Hall usable with students and administrators about the implications of the decision
Resources about the decision and related issues

Later this week we will post links to a master’s thesis by Kristy Roschke that looks at what courts have considered disruptive in scholastic media cases.

Part 2 of this series: Ammunition to help define disruption

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Guidelines, recommendations for advisers facing prior review

Posted by on Sep 4, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Based on an increase in the number of of prior review incidents and administrative attacks on advisers, we are reposting this information.

At the spring 2010 Portland JEA/NSPA convention, JEA’s board passed a definition of prior review and prior restraint. The SPLC also recently endorsed the statement.

At the time, the Press Right Commission was directed to design a recommended process and guidelines on how advisers might handle prior review if faced with it. Below you will find those guidelines and process along with links to supporting philosophy and resources. We welcome your input.

While we know advisers will make decisions regarding prior review and other educational issues based on what they believe they can best support philosophically, JEA reiterates its strong rejection of prior review, and hence prior restraint, as a tool in the educational process. With that belief, we feel an obligation to help advisers faced with this situation.

Statements to accompany JEA’s definitions of prior review and restraint:

As journalism teachers, we know our students learn more when they make publication choices and that prior review or restraint do not teach students to produce higher quality journalism.

As journalism teachers, we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely.

As journalism teachers, we know democracy depends on students understanding all voices have a right to be heard and knowing they have a voice in their school and community.

Thus, to help students achieve work that is up to professional standards, journalism educators should consider the following process:

• Encourage transparency about who determines the content of a student publication by alerting readers and viewers when student media are subject to prior review and restraint;

• Advocate the educational benefits of student press freedom if student media are subject to prior review or restraint;

• Provide students with access to sources of professional advice outside the school for issues they need to address;

• Provide students with tools that include adequate knowledge and resources to successfully carry out their work. By using these tools, we build trust in the learning process and the theories on which it is based;

• Encourage students to seek multiple points of view and to explore a variety of credible sources in their reporting and decision-making;

• Coach instead of make requirements or demands thus modeling the value of the learning process and demonstrating the trust we place in our educational system;

• Empower students to know the difference between sound and unsound journalism and how to counsel their peers about potential dangers;

• Model a professional newsroom atmosphere where students share in and take responsibility for their work. In so doing, we increase dialogue and help ensure civic and journalistic responsibility;

• Use peer editing to encourage student interaction, analysis and problem solving;

• Instruct students about civic engagement and journalism’s role in maintaining and protecting our democratic heritage;

• Showcase student media where the dissemination of information is unfiltered by prior review and restraint so the school’s various communities receive accurate, truthful and complete information.

Recommended process if facing prior review, restraint

If, after employing the above techniques, student journalists still object to changes an adviser discusses, the following describes a process to handle potential disagreement:

1. Adviser and students disagree about content for publication.

2. Adviser and students discuss all angles of the disagreement; they try to find common ground.

3. The adviser and students decide if the disagreement is based on an ethical issue or a legal one.

4. If violations of libel, obscenity, unwarranted invasion of privacy, copyright infringement or material disruption of the school process are likely at stake, the adviser urges students to get advice of the Student Press Law Center or reliable legal resource. Not just any school lawyer or administrator will do. The resource, which could include non-live information, must be reputable for scholastic media. The phrase “unprotected speech” might not be enough because Hazelwood so muddied the concept.

5. If the disagreement is not over a legal consideration, the adviser urges students to consider the “red light” or similar questions raised by The Poynter Institute to see how various stakeholders might react if the material is published. Students see and consider the possible outcomes of publication and discuss with the adviser ramifications of their actions.

6. Adviser and students continue to discuss and explore alternative approaches until they reach a point of no possible agreement.

7. This process fulfills the adviser’s commitment to advise, not to make or require decisions, and to be cognizant of his/her responsibilities to school and students.

The Journalism Education Association reiterates its position that prior review and prior restraint violate its Adviser Code of Ethics and educational philosophy.

Additional links and resources:

• 10 Tips for Covering Controversial Subjects from the press rights commission website
Just this once
JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics from the commission blog. Scroll to the bottom
Questions to ask those who would prior review
JEA’s statement on prior review from the JEA website

Results of a Master’s study on prior review and publication awards from the commission’s website
Resources from the press rights commission on developing professional standards from press rights website
NSPA Model Code of Ethics for student journalists from NSPA’s website


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#SJW11 and beyond: Legal and ethical foundations for tomorrow’s citizens

Posted by on Feb 17, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Governors Association Center of Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn” and were “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

When released in June 2010, the NGA Center and CCSSO indicated these standards are “aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school.” The writers concluded,  “With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”  As of mid-February 2011, all but nine states have adopted some form of these.

The standards only address English-language arts and math, according to the Common Core State Standards website,  “because these two subjects are skills, upon which students build skill sets in other subject areas. They are also the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes.” The group “may develop common core in additional subject areas.”

Yet, without the legal and ethical foundations on which the United States is based and the free expression these support, no amount of focus on rigor or international benchmarking will be enough to save our democracy.  Standards that offer expectations for tomorrow’s citizens, whether headed to college or career, are vital. Being able to read is not enough without the ability to assess accuracy, completeness and bias of content. Being able to write or speak without knowing legal constraints and ethical guidelines is equally worthless.

Thus, members of the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission offer these additional standards as a way to address what we believe is missing from those currently available. We offer the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Citizenship and the Media. These mirror the format of the Common Core Standards in all but two ways: (1) They are readily applicable to journalism and/or media classes, though they could apply to social studies and English courses as well, and (2) they do not offer grade-specific standards because many such courses have a range of student grade levels included. With no national group currently proposing such a set of standards, we suggest each state adopt its own.

Key Ideas and Details

1. Demonstrate the core values and principles of U.S. democracy as set forth in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and court decisions.
• Understand First Amendment rights and responsibilities when choosing media content.
• Analyze relevant court decisions as precedents.
• Practice these key ideas by collaborating on decisions through a student-led democratic process.

2. Demonstrate understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the principles of civic involvement, including individual rights and their accompanying responsibilities.
• Produce opinion or editorial pieces that spark conversation and question authorities regarding current issues.
• Report accurately and objectively on the news and issues of the day.
• Search for solutions to problems.
• Provide alternative voices through credible reporting and constructive criticism.

3. Understand the importance and function of the marketplace of ideas in a democracy, including the necessity for diverse views.
• Create an open forum for student expression, including opportunities for outside voices to be heard.
• Strive to ensure all social, economic, ethnic, academic and grade-level groups are represented.
• Use a balance of sources and coverage in presentation of topics.
• Resist prior review and restraint by authorities and present sound reasons why that practice should not be instituted or continued.
• Exercise critical thinking and exchange ideas when making final content decisions.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

4. Demonstrate knowledge of the function, effect and parameters of law as they apply to the specific content areas.
• Exercise rights as afforded by the First Amendment and court cases.
• Recognize the difference between protected and unprotected speech and apply it to media choices.
• Recognize and abide by accurate interpretations of FERPA, FOIA, HIPPA and other relevant legislation.

5. Assess ethical issues and how society might be impacted by choices affecting students and community members.
• Explore, analyze and debate the impact of ethical choices by government officials, including public school administrators, school board members and other figures of authority.
• Provide leadership through sustained coverage of topics related to such ethical choices.
• Localize off-campus issues to show how they impact readers.
• Engage communities through accurate and thorough reporting of such issues.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

6. Apply ethical principles in decision-making, including responsibility, thoroughness, honesty, accuracy, independence, accountability and credibility.
• Recognize the importance of independent thought in reporting.
• Utilize constructive criticism in editorial commentary.
• Access multiple resources to ensure accurate, thorough and balanced reporting.
• Accept accountability for all content.
• Correct and retract misleading or incorrect information.

7.  Develop and refine ethical skills for choosing, gathering and organizing information.
• Investigate credibility of sources and confirm questionable assertions.
• Use anonymous sources only when it is essential to the content of the story, and honors confidentiality promised.
• Verify and synthesize when gathering and disseminating information.

Application of Knowledge and Ideas to Future Concepts

8. Prepare for the legal and ethical implications of technological changes in communication.
• Apply copyright laws to digital media.
• Properly attribute sources when using the work of others.
• Practice transparency in information-gathering by identifying methods of acquisition.
• Refrain from creating a false impression of reality through digital manipulation of photo, video or audio files.
• Avoid conflict of interest in information presented.
• Work to assure accuracy and thoroughness of information.
• Recognize privacy implications when gathering and publishing information.

Are we missing anything?  We’d love to hear your suggestions – and comments.

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