A student voice.

The Communicator

Detailed Policies

Student Press Law Center Model Guidelines for High School Student Media

Formally adopted by The Communicator September 2004, revised February 2009

I. STATEMENT OF POLICY

Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental values in a democratic society. The mission of any institution committed to preparing productive citizens must include teaching students these values, both by lesson and by example.

As determined by the courts, student exercise of freedom of expression and press freedom is protected by both state and federal law, especially by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Accordingly, school officials are responsible for encouraging and ensuring freedom of expression and press freedom for all students.

The Communicator is an open forum of student expression. The Communicator should provide a full opportunity for students to inquire, question and exchange ideas. Content should reflect all areas of student interest, including topics about which there may be dissent or controversy.

It is the policy of The Communicator that student journalists shall have the right to determine the content of student media. Accordingly, the following guidelines relate only to establishing grounds for disciplinary actions subsequent to publication.

II. OFFICIAL STUDENT MEDIA

A. Responsibilities of Student Journalists

Students who work on official, school-sponsored student publications or electronic media determine the content of their respective publications and are responsible for that content. These students should:

l. Determine the content of the student media;

2. Strive to produce media based upon professional standards of accuracy, objectivity and fairness;

3. Review material to improve sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation;

4. Check and verify all facts and verify the accuracy of all quotations; and

5. In the case of editorials or letters to the editor concerning controversial issues, determine the need for rebuttal comments and opinions and provide space therefore if appropriate.

B. Unprotected Expression

The following types of student expression will not be protected:

1. Material that is “obscene as to minors.” “Obscene as to minors is defined as material that meets all three of the following requirements:

(a) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the publication, taken as a whole, appeals to a minor’s prurient interest in sex; and

(b) the publication depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct such as ultimate sexual acts (normal or perverted), masturbation and lewd exhibition of the genitals; and;

(c) the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Indecent or vulgar language is not obscene.

2. Libelous material. Libelous statements are provably false and unprivileged statements of fact that do demonstrate injury to an individual’s or business’s reputation in the community. If the allegedly libeled party is a “public figure” or “public official” as defined below, then school officials must show that the false statement was published “with actual malice,” i.e., that the student journalists knew that the statement was false or that they published it with reckless disregard for the truth without trying to verify the truthfulness of the statement.

(a) A public official is a person who holds an elected or appointed public office and exercises a significant amount of governmental authority.

(b) A public figure is a person who either has sought the public’s attention or is well known because of personal achievements or actions.

(c) School employees will be considered public officials or public figures in relationship to articles concerning their school-related activities.

(d) When an allegedly libelous statement concerns an individual who is not a public official or a public figure, school officials must show that the false statement was published willfully or negligently, i.e., the student journalist who wrote or published the statement has failed to exercise reasonably prudent care.

(e) Students are free to express opinions. Specifically, a student may criticize school policy or the performance of teachers, administrators, school officials and other school employees.

3. Material that will cause “a material and substantial disruption of school activities.”

(a) Disruption is defined as student rioting, unlawful seizures of property, destruction of property, or substantial student participation in a school boycott, sit-in, walk-out or other related form of activity. Material such as racial, religious or ethnic slurs, however distasteful, is not in and of itself disruptive under these guidelines. Threats of violence are not materially disruptive without some act in furtherance of that threat or a reasonable belief and expectation that the author of the threat has the capability and intent of carrying through on that threat in a manner that does not allow acts other than suppression of speech to mitigate the threat in a timely manner. Material that stimulates heated discussion or debate does not constitute the type of disruption prohibited.

(b) For student media to be considered disruptive, specific facts must exist upon which one could reasonably forecast that a likelihood of immediate, substantial material disruption to normal school activity would occur if the material were further distributed or has occurred as a result of the material’s distribution or dissemination. Mere undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough; school administrators must be able affirmatively to show substantial facts that reasonably support a forecast of likely disruption.

(c) In determining whether student media is disruptive, consideration must be given to the context of the distribution as well as the content of the material. In this regard, consideration should be given to past experience in the school with similar material, past experience in the school in dealing with and supervising the students in the school, current events influencing student attitudes and behavior and whether there have been any instances of actual or threatened disruption prior to or contemporaneously with the dissemination of the student publication in question.

(d) School officials must protect advocates of unpopular viewpoints.

(e) “School activity” means educational student activity sponsored by the school and includes, by way of example and not by way of limitation, classroom work, official assemblies and other similar gatherings, school athletic contests, band concerts, school plays and scheduled in-school lunch periods.

C. Legal Advice

1. If, in the opinion of a student editor, student editorial staff or faculty adviser, material proposed for publication may be “obscene,” “libelous” or would cause an “immediate, material and substantial disruption of school activities,” the legal opinion of a practicing attorney should be sought. The services of the attorney for the local newspaper or the free legal services of the Student Press Law Center (703/807-1904) are recommended.

2. The final decision of whether the material is to be published will be left to the student editor or student editorial staff.

D. Protected Speech

1. School officials cannot:

a. Ban student expression solely because it is controversial, takes extreme, “fringe” or minority opinions, or is distasteful, unpopular or unpleasant;

b. Ban the publication or distribution of material relating to sexual issues including, but not limited to, virginity, birth control and sexually-transmitted diseases (including AIDS);

c. Censor or punish the occasional use of indecent, vulgar or so called “four-letter” words in student publications;

d. Prohibit criticism of the policies, practices or performance of teachers, school officials, the school itself or of any public officials;

e. Cut off funds to official student media because of disagreement over editorial policy;

f. Ban student expression that merely advocates illegal conduct without proving that such speech is directed toward and will actually cause imminent unlawful action.

g. Ban the publication or distribution by students of material written by non-students;

h. Prohibit the endorsement of candidates for student office or for public office at any level.

2. Commercial Speech

Advertising is constitutionally protected expression. Student media may accept advertising. Acceptance or rejection of advertising is within the purview of the publication staff, which may accept any ads except those for products or services that are illegal for all students. Ads for political candidates and ballot issues may be accepted; however publication staffs are encouraged to solicit ads from all sides on such issues.

E. On-Line Student Media and Use of Electronic Information Resources

1. On-Line Student Media.

On-line media, including Internet Web sites, e-mail, listserves and Usenet and Bitnet discussion groups, may be used by students like any other communications media to reach both those within the school and those beyond it. The-communicator.org is entitled to the same protections and are subject to no greater limitations than other student media, as described in this policy.

2. Electronic Information Resources

Student journalists may use electronic information resources, including Internet Web sites, e-mail, listserves and Usenet and Bitnet discussion groups, to gather news and information, to communicate with other students and individuals and to ask questions of and consult with sources. School officials will apply the same criteria used in determining the suitability of other educational and information resources to attempts to remove or restrict student media access to on-line and electronic material. Just as the purchase, availability and use of media materials in a classroom or library does not indicate endorsement of their contents by school officials, neither does making electronic information available to students imply endorsement of that content.

Although faculty advisers to student media are encouraged to help students develop the intellectual skills needed to evaluate and appropriately use electronically available information to meet their newsgathering purposes, advisers are not responsible for approving the on-line resources used or created by their students.

3. Acceptable Use Policies

The Communicator recognizes that the technical and networking environment necessary for on-line communication may require that school officials define guidelines for student exploration and use of electronic information resources. The purpose of such guidelines will be to provide for the orderly, efficient and fair operation of the school’s on-line resources. The guidelines may not be used to unreasonably restrict student use of or communication on the on-line media.

Such guidelines may address the following issues: file size limits, password management, system security, data downloading protocol, use of domain names, use of copyrighted software, access to computer facilities, computer hacking, computer etiquette and data privacy.

III. ADVISER JOB SECURITY

The student media adviser is not a censor. No person who advises a student publication will be fired, transferred or removed from the advisership by reason of his or her refusal to exercise editorial control over student media or to otherwise suppress the protected free expression of student journalists.

V. PRIOR RESTRAINT

No student media, whether non-school-sponsored or official, will be reviewed by school administrators prior to distribution or withheld from distribution. The school assumes no liability for the content of any student publication, and urges all student journalists to recognize that with editorial control comes responsibility, including the responsibility to follow professional journalism standards each school year.

VI. LETTERS

The Communicator welcomes material (letters, guest columns, feedback) from faculty, administrators, students, parents, and community members. The Communicator provides an open forum for students, faculty, subscribers, and community members, and the editorial board encourages letters to the editor and guest columns. These can be mailed to the address published in every issue care of the editor, emailed to the.communicator@gmail.com or the.communicatorweb@gmail.com, or dropped off in Tracy Rosewarne’s mailbox in the main office at Community High.

All letters and columns must be signed and the staff reserves the right to edit letters for length, invasion of privacy, obscenity or potential libel. Brevity of letters will also be considered. The Communicator reserves the right to withhold letters or columns and return them to the writers for more information if the editorial board determines them to contain items that are unprotected speech as defined by the standard of The Society of Professional Journalists or the Student Press Law Center. All opinion pieces submitted should contain an address and a phone number where the writer can be contacted because the staff will confirm all letters. Letters and columns will not be returned.

The Communicator reserves the right to respond with editorial responses as the editor and editorial board see fit. These responses will be printed after the letter in a different type.

VII. Death of a Student

In the event of the death of a Community High School student, The Communicator will not necessarily run a story. This will be determined by the events surrounding the death and whether or not it is newsworthy. In the event of a death as a result of drugs or a car accident, The Communicator, will investigate all possible angles. Alumni will not be covered, no matter how recent, unless it is newsworthy and pertinent to the current student body.

A STAFF GUIDE TO THE COMMUNICATOR

  1. Bylines
    1. All published works must have a byline – a printed line with the author(s) names – attached. If more than three or four persons report on an article, the byline may read, “Staff,” instead of listing individual reporters. Similarly, it is inappropriate to list “Staff,” (i.e., in instances of published staff editorials) when only one student authored/worked on the piece.
  2. Editorial Board/Leadership
    1. The Communicator is a student-run organization, so leadership for the following year is chosen by existing leadership with insight and recommendations from the adviser. The responsibility of the existing leadership is to determine the best format in which students can productively run and improve the newspaper considering ability levels, experience, dedication and leadership potential as well as staff dynamics. Two formats of newspaper leadership have been developed from these considerations and should be examined each year to decide what best suits the staff.
      1. Editor-in-Chief/Co-Editor-in-Chief leadership
        1. The need for a single Editor-in-Chief or two Co-Editors-in-Chief arises when leadership is clearly in the hands of one or two individual students.
        2. If there is one Editor-in-Chief it is imperative that individual is fluent in aspects of student journalism, design and alternative media, and competent in areas of art. This student must have the charisma and leadership ability to run a large newspaper class. It is important that the student delegates tasks to section editors and respects opinions of all members of the staff.
        3. In the case of two Co-Editors-in-Chief, positions may be filled with individuals with different skill sets. For instance, one may specialize in art and design while the other is a strong writer. Both must exhibit leadership skills.
      2. Editorial Board
        1. Occasionally, leadership potential is so abundant that the traditional Editor-in-Chief leadership format is irrelevant. In 2008-2009, The Communicator developed and was led by its first Editorial Team, a group of six students with different strengths and experiences. Choosing an Editorial Team as a method to facilitate leadership is recommended not when it seems there is no one qualified enough to lead alone or with a partner, but when a plethora of leadership exists so that choosing two editors is impossible. An Editorial Team allows for a flow of leadership and growth on the newspaper; members of the Editorial Team may step forward and back when they feel it is appropriate. This leads to an ideal state of momentum, as leaders have opportunities to work tirelessly when an issue moves them. They also have the ability to let one of their peer leaders who have different skill sets step in when they are less qualified. Because this format of multiple leaders encourages dialogue, an Editorial Team fosters a community in which staff members of The Communicator feel they can be more open.
        2. In order to choose an Editorial Team, staff and adviser must consider the different specialties of each student, as well as how group dynamics may develop.
        3. Staff must also develop well-defined roles for each member of an Editorial Team. This will make sure that no task is left uncompleted or unsupervised. Defined roles also allow for students to develop ownership of their position, and expand and grow within or outside of its boundaries.
  3. Responsibilities of Student Leadership
    1. Student Leadership (in the format of Editor(s)-in-Chief or an Editorial Team) is responsible for the following:
      1. Planning the newspaper
        1. Student leadership will draw out each edition on a storyboard, planning each page of the paper in terms of content and design. In terms of long term planning, student leadership will keep tabs on the flow of incoming content and design plans so that there is never a gap in quality. They do this by collaborating with the newspaper Adviser to keep “State of the Staff” records, and by changing schedules and sending out times to reflect content, art and design in production.
      2. Guiding the staff
        1. Student leadership will work with the Adviser in collaboration to determine the use of class time and production schedules. They will often lead class, set a high example of content and design standards, and help staff members who wish to grow or become involved with any facet of student journalism.
          1. Content-specific leadership will focus on making sure each staff member always has a project – article, infographic or other alternative story form – in production. They will help writers brainstorm article topics, follow through and find sources. In the article-writing process, they will guide when necessary. A content editor must be the constant purveyor of feedback to the staff. It is recommended that all articles, as they are turned in to the Gmail account, receive a paragraph of content-structured criticism. As every word in the paper must be seen by content leadership, it is easy and important to let writers know what aspects of each piece can be improved before the paper is sent out, and what they should remember to do in the future. Content-specific leadership must inspire writers, and help staff use that inspiration to complete what they begin.
          2. Design-specific leadership focuses on guiding staff through the end of the production cycle until the paper is sent out, but also has responsibilities in the initial stages of the edition’s creation. Design and content leadership draw up the storyboard each edition, keeping in mind which writers and designers will grow as a result of the decisions made. They also work with designers to plan ahead as much as possible in terms of art, infographics and alternative story forms. During production, design-specific leadership plays a key role in helping all designers with their pages, guiding them to restructure flaws in a way that is conducive to the newer designer’s learning. Design-specific leadership should attempt not to change errors or stylistic problems with pages without consulting the original page designer.
      3. Making final decisions about content and design
        1. Student leadership must decide, ultimately, whether to print an article, change design and any other aspects of the paper. They may seek the help of the adviser, but the final decision rests with the student leadership.
      4. Sending out the paper
        1. After converting the Master into a PDF, student leadership is responsible for sending the complete electronic file to the printers. This means they may decide to hold off sending out the paper if they determine to do so. It also means that they must be involved until the very end of the production cycle.
      5. Submitting entries to MIPA; JEA; NSPA
        1. Every year The Communicator competes in several student journalism competitions. The critiques help the newspaper grow, and the recognition re-establishes the paper as a veritable community news and analysis source. Student leadership is expected to choose and prepare entries to competitions, and send them with the help of the Adviser.
      6. Determining next year’s leadership
        1. Student leadership, in partnership with the Adviser, must select the student leadership for the following year. They may begin to consider possible replacements mid-way through the year, examine which students may succeed in leadership, and offer them positions in which they could grow. Towards the end of year, applications with detailed staff positions should be handed out to staff and other interested parties. Student leadership and the Adviser will then select who they think is best suited to lead the newspaper the next school year.
      7. Thinking ahead
        1. Student leadership should constantly consider the future of the newspaper – what areas could use improvement, where can the paper pioneer new ideas, and what to keep doing.
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A student voice.
Detailed Policies