Prior review

The Journalism Education Association, as the nation’s largest association of scholastic journalism educators and secondary school media advisers, denounces the practice of administrative prior review as serving no legitimate educational purpose. Prior review leads only to censorship by school officials or to self-censorship by students with no improvement in journalistic quality or learning.

Better strategies exist that enhance student learning while protecting school safety and reducing school liability.

School administrators provide leadership for just about every dimension of schools. They set the tone and are crucial in a meaningful educational process. Undeniably, administrators want their schools’ graduates to be well-educated and effective citizens. Often, school or district missions statements state this goal explicitly. JEA supports them in that effort.

So, when the Journalism Education Association challenges the judgment of administrators who prior review student media, it does so believing better strategies more closely align with enhanced civic engagement, critical thinking and decision-making.

Prior review by administrators undermines critical thinking, encourages students to dismiss the role of a free press in society and provides no greater likelihood of increased quality of student media. Prior review inevitably leads to censorship. Prior review inherently creates serious conflicts of interest and compromises administrator neutrality, putting the school in potential legal jeopardy.

Without prior review, administrators retain better strategies that support journalism programs. Such approaches include:

— Working with students cooperatively to be good sources for stories
— Hiring qualified advisers and journalism teachers
— Building trust in the learning and communication process in a way that also lessens liability concerns of the school system
— Offering feedback after each publication
— Increasing dialogue among school staff and students, thus encouraging outlets of expression that strengthens school safety
— Expanding school and community understanding and appreciation of the value of free – and journalistically responsible – student media
— Providing necessary resources to support and maintain publication programs, including financial support, master schedule preferences, development opportunities and time

These strategies, and others listed below can enhance the influence of administrators without intruding on student control of their media as outlined by court decisions and the First Amendment.

Administrators can and should:
— Foster appreciation for America’s democratic ideals by inspiring students and their advisers to practice democratic principles through free student media
— Hire the most qualified educator to teach and advise or help one without solid journalism background become more knowledgeable. This allows the educator to provide training so students can better become self-sufficient as they make decisions and practice journalism within the scope of the school’s educational mission and the First Amendment
— Trust and respect their advisers, their student media editors and staff as the students make decisions
— Maintain dialogue and feedback to protect and enhance student expression, to afford students real input in the process, and to broaden their opportunities to excel

Teachers and advisers can and should:

— Model standards of professional journalistic conduct to students, administrators and others
— Emphasize the importance of accuracy, balance and clarity in all aspects of news gathering and reporting
— Advise, not act as censors or decision makers
— Empower students to make decisions of style, structure and content by creating a learning atmosphere where students will actively practice critical thinking and decision-making
— Encourage students to seek other points of view and to explore a variety of information sources in their decision-making
— Ensure students have a free, robust and active forum for expression without prior review or restraint
— Show trust in students as they carry out their responsibilities by encouraging and supporting them in a caring learning environment

Student journalists can and should:
— Apply critical thinking and decision-making skills as they practice journalistic standards and civic responsibility
— Follow established policies and adopt new ones to aid in thorough, truthful and complete reporting using a range of diverse and credible sources
— Seek the advice of professionally educated journalism advisers, teachers and other media resources
— Maintain open lines of communication with other students, teachers, administrators and community members
— Operate media that report in verbal and visual context, enhancing comprehension and diverse points of view
— Develop trust with all stakeholders – sources, adviser, administration and fellow staffers