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We must trust students’ final decisions of content and not take final approval away from them

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As advisers we must advise. We question, we discuss, we coach, we cheer. We draw from our experiences and perspectives to shed light on viewpoints young journalists may not have considered.  We establish protocols based on best practices, but we also must trust.

by Lindsay Coppens The Harbinger AdviserAlgonquin Regional High School, Northborough, Mass.

Do students have complete autonomy and scholastic press rights if advisers approve of or even have the expectation to read all content before publication? I say no.

Although I see the potential educational merits of advisers reading content before it is published in order to promote deep discussions about journalistic practice and ethics, I’ve grown to believe it’s best for student autonomy if advisers do not approve all copy.

As I tell my students, freedom of press does not mean only freedom of excellent or good journalism. Freedom means that just ok or even bad journalism is free, too.

As I tell my students, freedom of press does not mean only freedom of excellent or good journalism. Freedom means that just ok or even bad journalism is free, too.

Lindsay Coppens

Now, of course, I condition that statement with the fact that as a publication we strive to do great journalistic work with sound ethics. The editorial board worked hard to get where they are and are proud of the traditions they build on and the legacy they will leave.

They also understand the repercussions that come from the public if and when they make errors, even small ones.

They have inherited and help develop reporting and editing protocols. They understand the importance of verification and fact checking. They have frequent discussions about ethics and occasional discussions about law. They are proud of doing good work, and I continually remind them to hold each other to high standards.

But of course, as individuals and sometimes as a team, they make mistakes. Mistakes can be rough, especially in the public realm of journalism. But the great thing about mistakes is that they are the best way to learn, and those lessons aren’t forgotten.

If we as advisers have the practice of approving all content, we aren’t allowing students to take true responsibility for their publication.

If we as advisers have the practice of approving all content, we aren’t allowing students to take true responsibility for their publication.

Lindsay Coppens

We may not be letting them fully own the glory of a powerful piece of reporting, and we definitely aren’t allowing them to fully own the power of making a mistake.

Yes, as advisers we must advise. We question, we discuss, we coach, we cheer. We draw from our experiences and perspectives to shed light on viewpoints young journalists may not have considered.  We establish protocols based on best practices, but we also must trust.

Over the years I’ve taken steps to let go of control. These steps were often scary, but with each step the publication and the students have grown stronger.

Now there are frequent articles, columns and images I don’t see before they are published online or before they are placed in print.

The editors know if they want another set of critical eyes or honest, supportive feedback they are welcome and encouraged to share any piece with me.

They’ve also agreed to share all front page stories and any that may be perceived as controversial so I can be part of the discussions and give support as needed. 

Sure, there are times when I am disappointed or frustrated by what is published, But there are so many moments of wonderful surprise now that I’ve stepped back.

Sure, there are times when I am disappointed or frustrated by what is published, But there are so many moments of wonderful surprise now that I’ve stepped back.

Lindsay Coppens

Just a few days ago I opened our publication’s website and saw a piece I didn’t even know was in the works. The content, images, and design were all excellent. I beamed.

Yes, I had taught them and coached them over time, but this, and many other pieces, they did completely on their own. 

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