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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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What our tech-savvy kids don’t know

Posted by on Nov 28, 2016 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 1 comment


by Candace Bowen, MJE
Foundations_mainThey may be digital natives with instincts that allow them to use the latest app and easily share photos and video on social media platforms, but when it comes to evaluating information they access on the web, those from middle school through college aren’t nearly as knowledgeable as some might think.

In fact, they can’t tell an ad from a news story or hate group propaganda from factual material from a respected news outlet. In fact, the Stanford History Education Group described students’ reasoning ability when it comes to Internet information as “bleak.”

The group’s 18-month project, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” looked at “the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets and computers.”

From January 2015 to June 2016, the researchers developed and administered assessments to 7,804 students in 12 states, from inner-city LA to suburban Minneapolis, and at six different universities from those with tough admission standards to state schools that accept most applicants.

[pullquote]As the group’s recently released report states, “For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not. Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off.”[/pullquote]

As the group’s recently released report states, “For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not. Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off.”

To get an idea of just how much these students really know about the Internet, the researchers tested their understanding of a range of information that appears on social media and other Internet venues. For instance, they showed middle school students “sponsored content” and news articles to see if they could recognize an ad. They showed high school students studying about gun laws a chart from a gun owners’ political action committee to see if they would accept it at face value. And they showed college students a tweet to see if they might use it as an eventual source in an article.

Perhaps even more intriguing – especially for education nerds – are the sample questions the report contains, along with a rubric for each and sample responses that show mastery (the student answers correctly and provides coherent reasoning for the response), emerging (the student answers correctly but provides limited or incoherent reasoning) and beginning (the student answers incorrectly).

The results the group reports are indeed bleak, but this shows the kind of media literacy journalism teachers might be able to help promote. Much of it deals with concepts we teach all the time: “Question Authority.” And of course there’s “verify” and “be transparent.” At least we hope our students would do better on this group’s assessment.

Also, the report ends with “Next Steps,” which include a promise to pilot lesson plans to use with these assessments and an awareness of the problem that is far worse than the researchers originally thought.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite,” the researchers say. They hope to produce web videos to show how digital literacy is vital for a country like ours that relies on an informed electorate.

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Students Tackle Coverage of Rape Culture

Posted by on Jan 28, 2014 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Fourth in a series of articles about student journalism that makes a difference

Jane Blystone, MJE
Covering a taboo topic like “rape culture” can be very daunting to any journalist. However the scholastic journalists at Palo Alto High School did not let the culture of silence deter them from telling covering this story that their peers needed to read. Students saw 3000+ copies of “Verde” distributed and 25,000 hits to their sister publication’s website,, move into the public arena.

Their adviser, Paul Kandell, shared the intensity of the work done by the students to cover this story in a thorough and sensitive manner. “With 3,000 print copies, 25,000+ online hits (as of May 1) and countless retellings through print, radio, TV and online interviews by Verde editors, the “You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped” package has broadly impacted awareness and discussion of a taboo subject: “rape culture” and its presence in high school life, particularly when combined with alcohol abuse. The package feels like a public inoculation: It’s hard to imagine any teen reading the story and being as cavalier about drinking or sex – or slut-shaming girls who have been raped. The more who read it the better.”

Students took the initiative to work with the Ochberg Society for Trauma Journalism, the Student Press Law Center,  the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and a Poynter Institute course work on “Reporting on Sexual Violence.” Was the work intense work? Yes. Was the issue hard to write? Yes. Was the work worth it? Yes. Has it made a difference? Absolutely, and for all time.

Kandell is right and we share these documents with you to show you that well-trained and uncensored scholastic journalists can tackle hard-hitting stories with great depth, broad coverage and a sensitivity that is humbling.

1. Lisie Sabbag’s article “‘You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped’”

2. Will Queen’s piece “Breaking the Silence,”

3. Staff Editorial editorial.

4. Interviews of male students From a different perspective: a discussion with Paly guys,”

5. Savannah Cordova’s column Taking it Seriously: Ever made a rape joke? This column is for you

6. Staff infographic The state of rape today

7. Complete issue of Verde PDF of Verde Magazine on issuu

8. Letter sent to faculty



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In their own words: What students say about their journalism experiences

Posted by on Sep 6, 2013 in Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Testimonials from students involved in scholastic media:

Jenna Spoont:  I am a journalist because I can reach out to those around me and inform them about problems in society. In December 2012, I wrote a story called “World Wide Watch” about the dangers of sexting. I researched statistics, interviewed students and national experts and spoke with the executive director of the Student Press Law Center to create an accurate, educational article. I wrote the article because if I could change just one teenager’s decision of sending inappropriate images, then I would feel rewarded for serving my community. It is because of journalism that I have grown to be ambitious and driven. I served as one of 10 Student Partners for 45Words, an organization that supports and promotes the First Amendment, the document that is at the core of what journalism stands for. I am a journalist, and I am passionate. Jenna Spoont, journalism major at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., class of 2013 Conestoga HS, Wayne, Pa., Quill and Scroll Gallup Scholarship recipient and JEA Student Journalist of the Year.

Shai Nielson: “In journalism, I was taught what my rights and freedoms are as a writer — things like my freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I was taught how to ask questions and how to get answers. As a journalist, I learned what my privileges and responsibilities are as a person: to use my freedoms to tell the stories that need to be told, truthfully and without bias. I learned how to use the answers I got. And so while journalism class taught me how to be a journalist, being a journalist taught me how to be a better talker, a better listener and a better person.” Shai Nielson – Whitney High School (CA) Journalism editor, Class of 2013 and now UC Davis.

Sequan Gatlin: Strengthening my communication abilities has not only shown me how to speak and be heard, but also how to listen and be taught. This has helped me to make better communities with my peers, instructors and advisers.  Being connected means having resources, information and mentors. Connections through my high school journalism adviser gave me the information and resources that I needed to get here today, an incoming freshman at Iowa State University. Sequan Gatlin, journalism and biology major, class of 2013, Davenport Central High School, Davenport, Iowa, Quill and Scroll Richard P. Johns Scholarship recipient.

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