During distance learning, revisit goals and roles of student media

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made an impact on and changed everything about schools. Most schools are starting the 2020-21 school year in full or partial distance learning, and everyone has at least a plan to consider this possibility. The changes forced by distance learning can also be an opportunity to revisit the goals and roles of student media.

These nine concepts provide a foundation for you and your staff to think about, to which you can aspire, to measure how well you are doing in your school and community, and ways to improve.

This narrated a video (12:57), which I prepared for a summer workshop, explains the nine concepts. A slightly older version of the slideshow is available (without narration).

I have updated these from when I first encountered them several years ago from my friend and mentor, Bob Greenman, who by then had retired from a successful career as a journalism teacher and newspaper adviser in New York City public schools but who remained active through conventions, workshops and active networking with students and advisers around the nation. These and other concepts are presented on posters available for download from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Five helpful resources you don’t want to reinvent

Even though a few months of the school year have passed, it’s not too late to get some policies in place to help your organization be more successful. Look at each of these five items and evaluate how they can assist your staff. They’re all available from NSPA at The Wheel — resources you don’t want to reinvent.

Model Code of Ethics for High School Journalists
The NSPA Code of Ethics establishes seven ethical principles for high school journalists. No more modifying other codes of ethics. This one is specific to the situations facing high school students and advisers. And, it’s been created with all media in mind.

Why and how to use: Student journalists need to have a foundation in ethics, but they also need to have examples that recognize the unique aspects of scholastic journalism. Copy the Code and provide it to every staff member. Spend class time anticipating some of the ethical situations posed in the Code, and how students will deal with them.

Legal Issues for Publishing Online
Understanding the basics of media law is essential for any high school journalist. But that understanding may be even more important for the multimedia journalist because of issues unique to the online world.

Why and how to use: Many people have misconceptions about what is legal or ethical online. If you have a student media website, knowing the law is important. Compare the differences between print and online.

Sample Student Media Staff Member Contract/License
This sample contract and license between a student media staff member and a student media organization was drafted by the Student Press Law Center and is an attempt to fairly balance the intellectual property rights of the student creators of a work against the business and practical requirements of student media organizations that publish such work.

Why and how to use: If a student takes a photo, he or she owns the copyright. It doesn’t matter whose camera was used or whether it was for a class assignment. Being proactive to allow a limited use by the student media organization can avoid any gray areas — and tense situations — while protecting the student’s rights.

Equipment Checkout Forms
Ensuring the proper maintenance of photographic equipment starts with an organized system to know where the equipment is, who is using it and who had it last. A checkout procedure helps students take responsibility for keeping track of equipment and to understand the cost to replace equipment.

Why and how to use: These models are examples from educators who found systems that worked for them. Take what makes sense and make it work for you.

Obituary Samples and Policies
Being proactive with an obituary policy can make for easy decisions if, and when, student journalists need to cover the death of someone in the school community.

Why and how to use: During a stressful, emotional or confusing situation, it can be helpful to turn to a policy for guidance. Consider these models and what makes sense for your student media and situation.

Once you and your staff have all of these components in place, you’ll be in great shape.

Who owns the work? The person who created it.

Imagine this situation: A teacher, holding a student’s recent assignment, approaches the writer. It’s really good, the teacher says, praising the student. The student beams with pride and asks whether it might be good enough to get published.
“Oh, definitely,” the teacher replies. “And that’s exactly what our school plans to do since we own this piece of writing.”

The student, astonished, sputters out a response. “But why would you say you own this?” the student says. “I’m the one who wrote it!”

The teacher simply smiles and says, “Yes, but you used a school computer and printed it on our printer, so we own it.”

“But what about copyright?” the student asks.

“Yeah, well you did the work in my class, so I’m like your boss,” the teacher answered.

Fuming, the student ponders the law and situation until the end of school, when he darts out of class to check his rights.

Does this situation sound ridiculous? Most people would say yes. Yet that’s exactly the explanation student journalists hear when they’re told the publication, website or broadcast owns their photos, videos or stories. The fact is the creator owns the copyright. Unless the students are getting paid for their work — and neither course credit or even cookies count as payment — the individual maintains the ownership. So, if the president comes to town, a student takes an amazing photo of him, and the Associated Press wants to buy it, the student can make money, even if he or she used a school camera to take the photo.

There’s a solution that can preserve the rights of student journalists while also allowing the publication, Web site or broadcast the opportunity to be the first to publish the work and to do so for a period of time — even after the student has moved or graduated. Each adviser should work with his or her editor or producer to create a contract that spells out the rights and terms of using the student’s work for publication or broadcast. Conveniently, the Student Press Law Center has developed just such a model contract to use as-is or as a guideline for your own. Even more conveniently, the model contract is available as a PDF to download at the NSPA website under the portion labeled The Wheel, resources you don’t want to reinvent.

At the beginning of each term, review the contract with new staff members and have them sign your contract. A parent will have to sign for a student who is a minor. This practice solves the problem of what to do when a student takes a photo for the yearbook but wants to post it first on his or her Facebook page. You can mandate that when working for student media, right of first publication belongs to the publication or broadcast. An added benefit is that students and their parents know the student’s rights, and everyone models the appropriate use of copyrighted images, video and text. And that’s a good lesson for everyone.

One final suggestion: If students can borrow school equipment like cameras for personal use (taking a senior portrait, a weekend trip, or to a friend’s birthday party), consider a user agreement between student/parents and the equipment owner that spells out procedures for check-out and check-in. Remember to be clear about the condition the equipment should be in upon return (cleaned, charged, etc.) and what happens if damage occurs. It’s better to have a policy in place before something occurs than to get stuck with missing or broken equipment.