Keeping a healthy relationship

22 Feb

Maybe it’s all the revolution and protest in the Middle East. Maybe it’s all of the talk about fighting censorship and standing behind the First Amendment that comes with Scholastic Journalism Week. Or maybe it’s the rebellious teenager/journalist inside of me who wants to stand up against authority. Either way, all of this talk about the Five Freedoms has me jumping at the opportunity to practice my constitutional rights.

When I learned about famous First Amendment battles like Tinker v. Des Moines, I thought the only way you could practice your rights was to fight back against evil administrators and principals who want nothing more than an oppressed and censored student body. Sadly, this is the case in plenty of schools around the nation. At the same time, there are plenty of student publications that have a healthy relationship with their administration. My school newspaper, The Kirkwood Call in St. Louis, Missouri, has been lucky enough have an open-forum policy by our principal and administration which means we do not have prior review. Just because a publication isn’t facing its school in court over censorship policies doesn’t mean it can’t practice its rights as journalists. Here are a few tips for keeping your student body informed, your administrative relationship healthy and your constitutional rights in practice.

Admit to mistakes- In a recent issue of my school’s newspaper, we printed a quote from a history teacher who, after reading, felt he was taken out of context. He wrote a lengthy letter about the quote which we printed in our next issue. No journalist is perfect but admitting to mistakes and showing maturity when angry readers storm into the news room increases trust between the students and staff.

Thank your principal- Principals can take a lot of heat from angry parents or fellow staff members when their school’s publication prints a controversial story. These men and women put up with the criticism because they care about their students’ rights, so thank them. At the end of the year, have each member on your staff sign a card saying how much they each appreciate the work their principal does for student rights. One thank-you can go a long way.

Be controversial, but be even more professional- The number one reason administrations censor student journalism: some schools don’t trust teenagers with professional and intelligent reporting on tough issues. As high school journalists, our duty of reporting the truth is equally important as any reporter in the New York Times. Unfortunately, many administrations believe school newspapers are for nothing more than sports scores and the latest thoughts on cafeteria food. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries for well-reported, deep stories that high school students can really relate to. At the same time, reporting these stories in the most professional way possible will help ensure your administration that you deserve the right to print. Don’t send a completed story, but always check quotes with interviewees, especially staff members. Make sure controversial stories are balanced and objective. Most importantly, make sure every story has a purpose that serves your audience. Don’t write about sex, drugs and violence just to write about sex, drugs and violence.

Support your peers- This is where 45words comes in. Until I met students from other schools who dealt with prior review and censorship, I had no idea that so many schools nationwide still couldn’t express their rights. The next time the Student Press Law Center posts a story regarding a school being censored, re-post it on Facebook. Sign a petition, comment on the post or Facebook-inbox an editor from that school. A little support from a fellow student-journalist not only helps the publication, but shows their administration that kids around the nation know their rights.

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