Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Longtime leader of SPLC moving on; search for new director to begin this month

Mark Goodman, the exectuive director of the Student Press Law Center since 1985, has resigned his position effective January 2008 to accept a newly created position at Kent State University as Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism.

According to the SPLC press release:

SPLC’s board has begun making plans for a smooth transition as our organization enters a new era. A committee already is at work outlining the qualities, background and experience we are looking for in a new executive director. We expect to have a job description and application information available later this month. Please check the SPLC’s Web site in a few weeks for more detail: www.splc.org/directorsearch. Our goal is to interview candidates during the summer and name a successor by the late fall/early winter. (If you have names to recommend for consideration as the new executive director, send them to searchcommittee@splc.org). Mark will officially begin work at Kent State in January, 2008, and he will play a key role in the transition process.

It is unknown at this point whether the committee will be seeking another lawyer to fill the position.

If you've ever had the good fortune to attend a session by Goodman at the annual NSPA/JEA conventions, you know what an awesome advocate for student rights he is. Under his leadership, the SPLC has literally helped thousands of student journalists through various legal challenges.

If you'd like to send him a note of thanks for his amazing work and leadership, you can reach him here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

J-Ideas director urges professional media to support student journalists

Warren Watson, the director of J-Ideas at Ball State University, put together a nice piece on the Poynter Institute's site urging professional media members to join the fight for student free press rights.

Much of what he had to say centered around the opposition to our own state's failed legislation, specifically pointing out The Seattle Times' flawed editorial. He expresses hope that the recent case at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School will provide the impetus for professional media involvement in the fight:

Sometimes it takes a high-profile case. The Indiana adviser, Amy Sorrell of Woodlan Junior-Senior High School near Fort Wayne, Ind., was in the middle of her suspension at the time of the ASNE convention. ... Her situation has energized some editors.

"This move sets the First Amendment back a notch," said Mike Smith, a journalist and executive director of the Northwestern University-based Media Management Center. "Students are the victims of this. Talk about your teaching moments."

Watson sums up the story this way:

Student journalists are in the process of learning the First Amendment. Student journalism is education in action. Censorship subverts the true learning of journalism.

"Too many of us forget," [USA Today editor Ken] Paulson said, "that the First Amendment is not handed to a young person along with a high school diploma. These core liberties belong to every American, and it's the job of a free press to stand up for all journalists, whether they're drawing a paycheck or not."

There's a nice section for feedback. Consider leaving a comment to urge our professional media colleagues to take a larger role in defending the First Amendment in high schools.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Reassigned Woodlan adviser honored

The American University law school honored Amy Sorrell with its Mary Beth Tinker Award on Wednesday for her efforts to fight censorship in her school.

The honor is well deserved for an adviser who has gone through a lot in this ordeal.

Sorrell detailed her experiences to at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. She challenged those at the luncheon to work toward protecting student rights.

"This is something we need to do now - not wait until you are a victim of censorship," she said. "We need to challenge schools to be advocates for students and to truly make schools a place for learning. Schools need to be places that harbor student rights, that encourage students' thoughts and ideas even when they are unpopular."

Oregon House passes student free press bill

Great news out of the state to our south.

The Oregon House of Representatives passed its student free press bill, House Bill 3279, by a 39-16 vote on Tuesday. The bill would guarantee the same rights to high school journalists that House Bill 1307 would have in Washington, although there are some differences:

As amended by the House Judiciary Committee, the bill dropped a provision freeing school districts and boards of legal liability for the content of school-sponsored media.

Although it would allow civil lawsuits to enforce state and federal constitutional rights of free expression, the amended bill would limit damages to $100.

Unlike Washington, there were supporters of the bill from both parties; there also were legislators who are former administrators who spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, said the bill leaves the burden on the students.

"It is going through experience that they learn," said Jenson, a retired instructor at Blue Mountain Community College. "If everything is sugar-coated, there's not any real education there."

If you're interested in listening to the floor debate -- including bill sponsor Rep. Larry Galizio's impassioned speech -- you can find that here. It's about one hour and 45 minutes into the session.

The hope here is that if Oregon can get this bill turned into law, it might provide a compelling example for our own legislators when free press legislation is introduced again next legislative session.

The bill now heads to Oregon's Senate.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Deadline for study grant applications extended

A reprieve for those of you students who have been dragging your feet on an application!

Kris Daughters, director of the WJEA Summer Student Workshop at Central Washington University, has extended the application deadline for the Workshop Study Grant to next Friday, May 18.

The extension comes from a mailing snafu that caused the apps to be mailed out later than usual, according to WJEA President Kathy Schrier.

I'm going to be teaching at the workshop, along with many other distinguished advisers in Washington. What are you waiting for? You can get a copy of the workshop brochure here, and download a copy of the grant application here. There's

Monday, May 07, 2007

Looking to spice your school's online edition?

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's one of the reasons high school newsrooms are littered with exchange papers from across the country and why swap shops often are among the most popular activities at national conventions.

Well, consider this your online exchange.

The NSPA recently announced the winners of its Online Pacemakers, and they're worth a look, whether you're wanting ideas for your new Web site or simply seeking ways to spice up your bland design. One can learn a lot by emulating the best.

Check them out:
Additionally, here were the other finalists:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Get WJEA blog content delivered your way

Looking for a way to get your hands on content from the WJEA blog that doesn't include visiting the site 10 times a day to check for updates?

You now have more options than ever for getting the blog's content delivered to you. Check down the right-hand side of the blog, and under the "How YOU can contribute to this blog" piece -- which by the way, not many people have taken advantage of -- you'll see three new options for getting content delivered just the way you like it.
  • Subscribe via e-mail: This is just what it says. Enter your e-mail address, then follow the confirmation link on the message that is sent to you and you'll be all set to receive daily content updates. The downside (or upside, depending on your perspective), is that it only sends you updates once a day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. No instant notifications when content changes.
  • Subscribe via RSS feed: This option is if you use an RSS reader, a great tool available through most every Web browser and e-mail client. The benefit here is that you get content delivered to you instantly when it's published. If you click on the link, it will take you to feedburner.com's feed site, which will help you get it into things like Google or My Yahoo. If you're just interested in the XML link, here it is. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read here. Basically, RSS feeds keep you from having to visit a hundred sites a day to check for new content by delivering new stuff straight to you. Huge time saver once you learn how to use it.)
  • Add blog to Technorati favorites: Use Technorati to keep track of your favorite blogs. Click on this link to get started.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions on getting any of that stuff set up, feel free to e-mail me here. Happy reading, and, as usual, suggestions welcome!

Board upholds Vashon censorship

Alas, if only we could reach the school boards that often make final decisions in censorship cases.

In another blow for student journalists, the Vashon Island School Board upheld the censorship of an article that was to run in the Vashon Island High School student publication, The Riptide. Apparently, the board operated under the (well-documented) misguided assumption that the school owns the publication, according to the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber:

As (VHS Principal Susan) Hanson had explained earlier, the school district owns the paper and is liable for what appears there, so it has the right to control it, (board member Gene) Lipitz said.

Unfortunately, this overly simplistic view of the situation ignores that The Riptide appears to have operated in practice as an open public forum, a situation that should have trumped the censorship under the Hazelwood case, since, by the board's own admission, there is no clear publications policy in place in the Vashon Island School District.

For his part, adviser Greg McElroy disgrees with the board's decision, for obvious reasons.

Greg McElroy, a faculty member who advises the staff of the Riptide, said on Sunday that since the student paper is owned by a government agency, he thinks it inherently has no power, as the federal and state governments do not, to censor. He added that he recognizes that the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise; he says he just disagrees with the court’s decision.

He also indicated that there are five states that now have freedom of the press laws that apply to students and that Washington would have had one if a bill enacting student press rights had passed the Legislature this year.

Asked who would assume liability if a school administration could not censor student newspapers, he said it would be the editors of the paper, who would likely not be sued if they understood and practiced sound journalism.

Do you have a great administrator in your school or district?

In all the talk of censorship that often can permeate the discussion of advisers, WJEA knows that there are, in fact, many administrators in our state who actively support students' First Amendment rights through publications.

We want to make sure they get recognized for the great work they do.

Got one at your school or in your district? Nominate them for the WJEA administrator of the year award. You can download the award application here, or you can click on the image to the right and print it out. Any administrator at the school or district level is eligible for the award, and nominations can come from either advisers or students.

Applications should be mailed by May 15, so you've got two weeks to get your act together!

By the way, last year's well-deserved winner was Brian Lowney of Emerald Ridge High School -- my principal. If you have any questions, contact me here.

Settlement reached in Woodlan case

Embattled Indiana journalism adviser Amy Sorrell, whose ordeal we've been tracking here, has reached a settlement with with East Allen Community Schools in what has to be considered a blow for student free expression rights. Under the settlement, Sorrell keeps her job but will be transferred to another school and barred from advising publications in the district for three years.

Predicatbly, very few seem to agree with the district's decision, although the district maintains it has been unfairly maligned. Said the Indianapolis Star in a staff editorial (stop us if you've heard this before ...):

"While student press freedom is not and cannot be absolute, court precedent holds that educators may not arbitrarily suppress school journalism and must show academic reason for intervening. Avoidance of trouble does not strike us as an academic criterion, much less a guide for budding opinion writers."

So, what can be learned from this situation for advisers who hope this never happens to them?

David L. Adams, a professor of journalism at Indiana University, said one of Sorrell's biggest mistakes might have been taking the lead in fighting against administration:

In hindsight, one of the other mistakes Sorrell might have made: leading the charge for threats to her students’ expression. It’s a difficult task for 14- to 18-year-olds to do this, and many teachers make a similar mistake because they know that freedom of expression is often challenged by those in authority. Young Americans can be terrified easily by adult threats when they try to express their thoughts on issues of controversy.

Advisers, it's always best to let your students do the leading in situations such as this. You can point your kids in the direction of sound information and advice, such as WJEA and the Student Press Law Center. But the moment you take the lead, you run the risk of putting your job in jeopardy. Sorrell's job might have been in jeopardy anyway, but it certainly wasn't helped by the fact that she used her district e-mail to solicit help for herself and her students. Protect yourself!

This doesn't in any way excuse the district's actions, which were reprehensible toward student free expression, and it's unfortunate that Sorrell's forced apology gave Superindendent M. Kay Novotny the opening she needed to issue this smug statement (which included the assertion that Sorrell was allowed to keep her job out of "compassion").

But it's important for both students and advisers alike to remember that student journalism is always at its strongest when the students are the ones making the decisions -- even whether to fight censorship.