Collaboration is at the core of scholastic journalism programs that achieve high standards of competency, ethics and community service.

The ability to collaborate effectively is particularly important in addressing controversies involving the student press. An inherent function of American journalism is to encourage diversity, which includes covering perspectives that may be disagreeable, unpopular and discomforting. While that function is essential to the democratic process, it also can cause headaches for principals who want to avoid any kind of conflict at school (outside of academic and sports competition, of course).

But schools are marketplaces for ideas, and controversial topics should be considered  carefully rather than censored. To avoid controversy is to deny students opportunities to improve skills in conflict resolution, to appreciate minority voices, to modify attitudes based on new insights and to contribute to problem solving. The roots of American freedom were nurtured by controversy and conflict—both inherent attributes of democracy. The student press can be an instrument of civility when values, judgments and feelings collide. By amplifying student and community voices on important issues, the press helps people define problems, identify alternative solutions, reach common ground and fix things.

Protocol, an concept originally suggested by Bob Steele of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies,  is a structure that facilitates collaboration by providing procedures that inspire ethics, help build ideal partnerships and make consensus more attainable.

He offered a definition of “protocol” that fits scholastic journalism well:

“We believe it is in the best interests of all stakeholders [in scholastic journalism] to adopt protocols for ethical decision-making.

“A protocol is not a policy setting down specific rules. Instead, a protocol is a process and a framework for making good decisions. A protocol includes key principles and important questions.

“The principles provide reference points on your moral compass, represents ‘what you stand for,’ and guide you in ethical decision-making.

“The checklist of questions is a pathway to follow to resolve conflicting principles and to help determine your actions.”

The McCormick Foundation Civic Program convened a two-day conference in 2010 to garner ideas to include in a protocol for student news media. The Illinois Press Foundation partnered in the project. Fifty participants from around the country represented students, journalism educators, school administrators, school board members, professional journalists, attorneys and others with an interest in scholastic journalism. Protocol for Free & Responsible Student News Media was the ultimate product.

In effective collaborations, the value of ideas is prioritized over the power of position. Student press rights are acknowledged, and decisions regarding contentious issues are objective rather than arbitrary. Democratic principles trump autocratic control. Student news media advisers and all stakeholders can participate in open, honest dialogue without fear of reprisals.

Ideally, protocol is a voluntary collaboration with robust dialogue, accountability, transparency, mutual respect, synergy, empathy and trust. As a result, relationships become healthy rather than hostile, objectives become selfless rather than selfish and student news media become openly credible rather than autocratically controlled.

Stakeholders can contribute to scholastic journalism in countless ways that strengthen the performance of student journalists and their news media:
Student journalists are embedded reporters who provide citizens with insightful stories at times when professional news media may not be able to do so. Their contributions strengthen their communities.
Faculty advisers guide students in developing an ethical foundation, news judgment and journalism skills, encouraging them to exercise their press rights and embrace their civic responsibilities. They help administrators and others appreciate the value of free and responsible news media.
School administrators temper their authority with respect for the commitment of student journalists. Rather than censor expression, they empower students to embrace their First Amendment heritage and use it to make a difference in their communities.
School boards endorse the value of student news media by recognizing their status as designated public forums, conduits for disseminating student and community perspectives. They ensure support through their choice of educational priorities and provision of a well-equipped learning environment
Professional journalists advocate for student media. They provide mentorship, act as sounding boards and offer 21st century newsroom learning opportunities as journalism students explore media careers. They help all students prepare for their roles as informed citizens. (now, this also could be in the next one – for that matter, it should be said of all adults in here))
Parents protect their children’s interests and nurture their evolving independence. They expect school authorities to cultivate democratic learning and to respect the constitutionally protected expression of their children
Citizens/Taxpayers benefit from authentic student perspectives on schools and contribute to scholastic journalism by holding both student journalists and school authorities accountable for democratic values and straightforward communication.
• Stakeholder collaboration supports the principles of democracy and helps safeguard integrity of the student press. With open dialogue, all scholastic journalism stakeholders are accountable so their words and actions align with student press rights, community interests and democratic values. When alignment seems elusive, engaging in a protocol process can help define common ground and inspire ethical decisions that will aid the entire community.