Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Tricky Truth

I used to think that honesty was a virtue. Sometimes I'm not always sure.

Honesty/truthfulness/genuineness/veracity pretty subjective when it comes right down to it. In journalism, especially scholastic journalism, that subjectivity gets even more complicated.

Children are told from a very early age to always tell the truth. Coincidentally, we learn at a very early age how to lie. In fact, there's a phase that's pretty much expected in every human's life that involves the very act of trying to deceive for a variety of reasons (in my particular might have had something to do with having a younger sibling who could take the fall) but it's still very much expected that a "good" person always tells the "truth."

Broken down:
truth = good
lying = bad

So what happens when the truth isn't a good thing? Not the very nature of truth, but the idea that the truth is something unnecessary to behold? Maybe we can't handle the truth?

This is a complicated question that many students grapple with every day. I won't even bore you with the trite explanations of white lies versus lying for the greater good or contrarily with the intent to deceive. I think that when we speak of truth in journalism, it's important to look at truth as the puzzle that it is. Each story is a piece of the puzzle--one is no more significant than the other--which comes together to form a picture (which can then be looked at from countless perspectives). Facts are facts. Truth is something else entirely. Students should be made aware of these differences so they are not limited to looking at only one piece of the truth, but many pieces together. Even then, there are choices that need to be made about the picture they want to show. This is where true journalistic integrity is learned.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prior review isn't my bag, baby.

While I certainly have appreciation and respect for the daily demands of principals and superintendents--and all the legal and political concerns that go with them--I am decidedly against creating more drama where drama is not due.

I am concerned about the issue of prior review (the idea that the administration should approve the content of a student publication/post/broadcast before it goes public). Now while I am unapologetically against the practice, I want to emphasize again my appreciation for the legal concerns of those who feel threatened by a free press among minors. While the subject has been up for debate before in the highest courts in the country, the argument of how these decisions can be considered constitutional is frustrating. This is not to say that I think students should be allowed to be libelous...they should simply be held to the same standards that all other American citizens are held to. Since when did the First Amendment have an age requirement?

Here are my perceptions of the argument for prior review:
1. Students are not always aware of the political or moral implications of their writing
2. School staff may lose their job(s) over issues discussed in student publications
3. Parents might get upset and call the office
4. Students might get upset and call the office
5. Some complete stranger might get upset and call the office
6. I'm out of ideas (seriously...feel free to add some more...I'm drawing a blank)

Here are my arguments against prior review:
1. The student voice should be of no less value than anyone else's
2. If a student publication/broadcast is constantly being censored, it harbors contempt between students and administration
3. If students can't learn to answer to or be accountable for what they write or speak, how will they become aware of the consequences of their words?
4. The adviser's role is to help students find an appropriate way to cover topics of interest, newsworthiness and concern--thus making the need for another reviewer redundant
5. Self-regulation is an important element of becoming media literate--thus becoming a thoughtful citizen
6. Concerns involving prior review seem more concerned with public perception of the school rather than concern for students' intellectual growth
7. Administrators who put less restrictions on student press will avoid the bad BIG media publicity that often comes with the repression of student voices
8. Self-regulation empowers students to make better decisions for themselves

I realize my bias, but having had the opportunity to advise publications on both sides of this idea, I can honestly say that I feel very sorry for school leaders who fail to allow students to grow as citizens simply out of fear for their own hides--which is nothing but an illusory fear to begin with.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What does student media have to offer?

It has been said that children ought to be seen and not heard.

Perhaps in a certain context, that perspective makes sense. Maturity lends itself to wisdom and the lack of either (or both) can be annoying. However, the lack of both in such an assumption (that a child has nothing of value to say) seems equally annoying.

One of the greatest assets of the new media is the accessibility of a voice to all matter how young, old, rich, poor, etc. Information is limited only by the number of people who refuse to participate in the process of sharing it.

And how does one become a "responsible" journalist, exactly? When does an education in media literacy begin? Is it the first time we are suckered into watching a poorly-written sitcom? Is it the first time we stumble onto an online news feed?

Before we start setting guidelines on student rights and freedom to speak out, perhaps we need to look at our own standards for journalistic integrity and see if this is the future we want to share with young participants in a free and democratic society.