Sunday, May 7, 2017

Last week of class

For the last week of class, I delved into the First Amendment with an exercise in censorship. Students were to glance through a local newspaper and choose stories that were critical of the government, groups, etc. and cross out passages they deemed critical.
They were asked several questions as to why they chose that passage, what about that passage was critical, and several other questions. Then they were told they were actually participating in censorship. What was left the article after they censored passages? Not much.
I am not much into censorship, but it's important for students to know what it is when they see it. If someone asks them to "take out" something, don't do it unless it isn't factual. How would the reporter feel/react if they knew their story was being cut in the name of censorship? How would they feel if their work was being cut in the name of censorship.
I had a lot of fun developing lesson plans dealing with this subject. The most fun I have had is coming up with activities and lesson plans dealing with fake news. It's the hot-button subject item of the moment and for months, possibly years, to come.
I had a chance to use one of my lesson plan/activities with a pair of high school students. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a Jeopardy-style game I created. The student came into the newspaper office as job shadows. It was an assignment for their class. They interviewed me for their half of the assignment, then I was to get them engaged in an activity for the second half (about an hour each). The kids really responded to the game unlike I had hoped. One of the students was really interested in the job shadow visit, while the other was, for a lack of a better description, less than enthused to be there. He was just there because he had to be. But when I introduced the game to them both, the uninterested student's participation level and enthusiasm skyrocketed.
I was pleased, to say the least.
It's been a great class - Social Role of the Media. I've learned a lot that I hope to put into practice.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Student Press Rights in Arizona

After performing a little research, I was surprised about how many states do not have some sort of legislation protecting student media.
I was further shocked to learn that I live in one of them.
Maybe it's because it hasn't been much of a problem here. Maybe it's because no one has bothered to do anything about censorship and prior review. I believe it's the latter because, during the 2017 Legislative session in Phoenix, a former student who said she was censored in high school many years ago is finally getting a forum - and legislators seem to be going for it.
That's not to say some legislators still have their doubts - albeit dubious suspicions.
The following piece came through my email that my newspaper uses. The reporter, Howard Fischer, of Capitol Media Services, provides legislative coverage for all state newspapers who subscribe to his service.
It's a valuable service since many of us are small newspapers and don't have the staff to send to Phoenix every day to cover the Legislature. For us, Phoenix is a three-hour, one-way trip from the White Mountains to the Valley of the Sun.
Here is Fisher's story from late last week:
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A bid to guarantee First Amendment rights to students journalists cleared a critical hurdle Thursday despite claims by some lawmakers that students aren't responsible enough to handle them.
But a critical final vote remains.
SB 1384 would spell out in Arizona law that student journalists have freedom of speech and the press in school-sponsored media even if the publication is supported by the public school, community college or university, and even if the paper is part of a class.
There would be some curbs against libel, unwarranted invasion of privacy, violations of law or creating "imminent danger'' of inciting students to break statutes or rules. And the legislation even permits officials at public schools -- but not colleges or universities -- to block distribution if any of those limits are violated.
Even with that, however, some lawmakers argued against the legislation.
"It is the responsibility of us, as capable adults, to have some say over what students can say and at what level they can criticize governments, schools, principals absolutely free of any of the good sense that should accompany those kinds,'' said Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale.
He lashed out at movements -- mainly on college campuses and none here in Arizona -- to block some conservatives from speaking.
"At the high school level they are not capable of absolutism, absolute total free speech, without adult supervision,'' he said. And Lawrence said even that may not be enough.
"The adult supervision thus far has been, unfortunately, opposed to conservative thought,'' he said. "At the high school level, at the college level, individuals with conservative thoughts are kept from speaking.''
All that, Lawrence argued, works against the kind of freedom for student journalists that SB 1384 would allow.
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, called it "a very bad bill.''
"Let's remember that student publications are taxpayer supported,'' he said, particularly at the high school level. "The school authorities need to have some control over the content of what goes into a student newspaper.''
And Stringer said the protections could extend to "student journalists'' as young as 13.
But Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, had a different take.
"It's a funny inconvenience about the First Amendment,'' he said.
"In addition to being sacrosanct in our Constitution, when it comes to teaching students, it's an incredible teaching tool,'' Clark continued. "And I don't believe you can fully teach students who are trying to learn how to be responsible journalists unless you respect the First Amendment.''
The legislation was crafted by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who told of being censored herself in the 1990s as a high school journalist.
Her measure is designed to get around a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision which concluded that the normal rights of journalists do not extend to students.
"We hold that educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,'' wrote Justice Byron White for the court. SB 1384 would establish that, at least in Arizona, administrators do not have the same level of control.
Thursday's preliminary approval came on a voice vote. It still needs a final roll call vote before going back to the Senate, which had approved it previously, to review changes made in the House.
Many of the legislators' arguments are borne out of fear. Fear is caused by lack of knowledge. My view is they shouldn't be discussing things of which they know little of and fear. That leads to misguided legislation and errant decisions.
In a report last week that basically stated the legislation had all but died, many GOP legislators argued that "students are not mature enough" to be a journalist. One legislator, who is a self-proclaimed artist, said, "Just because someone uses finger paints doesn't mean they can call themselves an artist." He further explained that he has seen animals at the zoo trounce across paper with finger paints ... a sort of animal art, if you will. "I supposed we should call them artists, as well?" he sarcastically asked.
Another legislator compared becoming a bona fide journalist to earning one's stripes as a welder -- you're not really a welder until you have that certificate in hand that says so.
But how did that welder learn his/her craft? Was it under the cloud of censorship or prior review? He's comparing apples to oranges, so to speak.
I found it ironic that a Republican legislator crafted the bill and was opposed by her fellow Republicans and is being backed by Democrats.
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, sells Arizona, a large Republican state, and its residents a bit short with his statements about adult supervision - specifically, teachers' ability to teach journalism and its tenants of truth, fairness, objectivity, do no harm, etc.
Not all schools are filled with Democrats, just like all schools are not filled with Republicans. Schools have both political leanings.
Regardless of one's political leanings, censorship protection extends to all journalists, from scholastic to the real world. Period.
Funny how that First Amendment thing works, isn't it?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Real, fake and satirical news

This week's project took much time and effort, but I was pleased with the way it turned out in the end.
I've been focusing most of my attention on real, fake and satirical news this semester. Since I am in the business professionally, it's really hit me hard how the term "fake news" is generally applied to media outlets by folks who may not agree/like a story. If it doesn't fit their worldview, it's fake news.
I have also been disturbed by friends on my social media pages who share fake news stories on my feed. They fail to read beyond the headline, without checking facts, dates, etc. A few weeks ago, someone shared the "shocking" news that actor Don Knotts had passed away. That news was slow moving ... considering Knotts died in 2006 -- 11 years ago.
If my adult friends are sharing old/fake/satirical news, what about our young people who are inundated with this stuff? After all, most kids have their nose buried in a smartphone/tablet practically at every hour of the day and night. They're seeing this stuff so much the lines can become blurred as to what is real and what isn't.
So I designed a Jeopardy-style game that focuses on real, fake and satirical news - and how to tell the difference between them. Students play the role of contestant; the instructor is the game show host. Categories are arranged in the style of the TV game show (only one round, at this juncture). They choose a subject with a corresponding point value (10 is easier than a 50-point question), and the students answer with three possibilities: What is real news? What is fake news? and What is satire? Categories are: National news, sports, politics, entertainment, photographs and quotes.
It took practically all week to search, find and credit sources for fake and satirical news; real news came from recent sources within the past two days as I wanted it to be as fresh as possible.
The great thing about this game is it can be changed at any time and replaced with fresher content so that references do not become obscure to future students.
I am really proud of this project as it literally came to be out of thin air. But as with anything, I know I could have made it even better. As I stated earlier, it can be adjusted and updated accordingly.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Citizen Journalism

This week's lessons fit nicely with what I am attempting to start at my newspaper.
We cover an area of northeastern and eastern Arizona that is equivalent to the size of two small states. With only five full-time reporters, that a lot of area to cover. So, we began, a few weeks, ago, contacting people who may know of people interesting in writing for us. The idea is for these folks to submit items of news interest from their respective communities. There are several small, rural communities spread out throughout our readership area - from one end to the other is about 150 miles east to west, and about 175-200 miles north to south. Along with the communities are two Indian tribes -- The White Mountain Apache/Fort Apache tribe and the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Nation encompasses a majority of our northeastern coverage area and extends into parts of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Getting news items from these underserved areas will enhance our standing as the sole source of news coverage in our area and will truly make us a "community" newspaper.
This week's lesson was rather easy as I incorporated what I have been doing and attempted to relate to the high school level.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Watchdog Journalism

I am amazed at how many times my courses and studied concepts have overlapped things I have been doing on the job.
This past week, we've been discussing watchdog journalism in my Social Role of the Media class at Kent State University. While talking, discussing and studying about watchdog journalism, my current publication published two stories about a longtime bookkeeper for a local irrigation district who is alleged to have embezzled more than $800,000 from the district's coffers during a six-year span.
During that investigation, we also uncovered allegations of an affair, gambling and other misdeeds allegedly committed by this person, who worked as the bookkeeper for the irrigation district for 42 years.
We were able to obtain legal documents from a civil lawsuit complaint filed by the district against this person. Criminal charges are pending by the district attorney's office.
Part of watchdog journalism is having a good working relationship with law enforcement and the legal system (attorneys, court officials, judges) who helped us obtain the documents we needed. The allegations first started as a rumor when a woman called me (anonymously) and told me what she had "heard." A couple of phone calls to the right people and we were in possession of the needed documentation (without the need to use FOIA). It is certainly much easier, and quicker, to get what you need if you have good working relationships with the aforementioned folks. It avoids the hassle and red tape of filing a FOIA and waiting several days for the request to be filled.
The piece was the talk of the area and was listed as our top-read story. We plan to follow up with a story about how this can/should be avoided in the future as we have two other active embezzlement allegations. One case was recently resolved when a National Parks Service worker was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing money from admissions fees into a local park.
There seems to be a need to watchdog journalism, more now than ever before, in my area.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Context is important

Seeing is not always believing.
That was not any more evident than last week when a photo circulated on social media depicting Kellyanne Conway, adviser to President Trump, kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office. Inside the Oval Office was President Trump and leaders from historically black universities and colleges.
The photo shows Conway holding a smartphone in her hand and legs tucked underneath her on the Oval Office couch. The photo went viral and was the subject of news stories, comments of outrage from politicians and was even the subject of a ongoing gag on Saturday Night Live last night.

Here is the photo:

Here is where context is important. I am willing to bet not too many people saw this other photo, from the same event, taken moments after the first shot.

As you can see, Conway wasn't disrespectfully lounging on the Oval Office couch playing with her smartphone. She was trying to take a photo from a particular angle.
One can argue she could have stood on the floor in the center and taken the photo, or kneeled on the floor for the photo, but take a look at the way the group is gathered ... a sort of semi-circle around the President. She was trying to get a unique angle shot, is my guess.
I am not familiar with Conway's photography skills and am not questioning it. That's not the point. The point is the first photo drew outrage from folks who didn't bother to seek out context, which is provided in the second photo.
Conway has made some head-scratching comments and done some questionable things ... but this isn't one of them.
It all goes back to people sharing things on social media without knowing a little bit more about what actually happened and why.
The adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," certainly applies ... but this generated all kinds of incorrect words and assumptions.
Context is important.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Accuracy and verification

Had a problem this week with accuracy and verification in a story we published. It was unsettling because the person who raised the biggest stink about it wasn't even named in the story.
The story had to do with alleged fraud from a political committee. It was discussed during an open meeting and we published the account from that meeting. The fact we got wrong was writing that the case had been turned over to authorities when it, in fact, had not. Our mistake and we printed a correction.
The other thing we didn't do, if we thought the case had been turned over to investigators, was we didn't contact the people we named who served on a committee during the alleged fraud timeline.
It was distressing because my reporter, who is a veteran, should have known better ... and I, as editor, should have caught it. It went through several people and none of us caught it.
There can be plenty of excuses made as to why this happened ... but bottom line, I should have caught it. It's frustrating because we have people logging on to social media calling us "fake news." This person seemingly had many friends in town, so folks are expected to jump on the "dishonest media" bandwagon. It seems we cannot make one error without getting disparaged. It is disheartening, to say the least.
This week's unit never applied so much.