Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A great night for Wenatchee journalism

I just got home from the kickoff of the new WHS Journalism Booster Club, nicknamed the “J-Boosters.” The group just formed and agreed to host a kickoff event to raise awareness and money, to reactivate the dormant Quill and Scroll chapter and to plan an end-of-year publications banquet.

Tonight’s kickoff, during Scholastic Journalism Week, was an out-of-ballpark homerun. We had over 80 parents, students and a few friends (newspaper publisher, radio host, my predecessor, etc.) who each paid the $10 admission. Pre-event donations were over $1,000. The local newspaper announced a donation of $500, and the main radio station announced a $250 donation. Other donations rolled in tonight, too. When we passed two pails — one for the newspaper and one for the yearbook — we collected another $850 (that includes when we auctioned off four extra unopened cheesecakes and made $20 each). It all totals well over $3,000 for a one-night event. Pretty good I must say. Oh yeah, the parents who organized decorations and food donated the materials, so our costs were minimal.

But the real reward is not the generosity of dollars but of the people who are so excited to be supporting scholastic journalism — a program not just for their kids but for all of our students. It was awesome to see the donations come in from parents of students that graduated two, five, seven years ago. And tonight the parents socialized with each other so much, looked at past yearbooks and newspapers, ogled the table of plaques and certificates, and watched students demonstrate InDesign and Photoshop. There was such an electricity in the air, and it was all about scholastic journalism at WHS.

I am so glad I finally got this program started, and I can't believe I waited so long to do it. I’ve learned the parents are just waiting to be asked, and they want to be involved in what their kids are doing. The small investment on my part to help get the ball rolling has more than paid off. Two months ago, the J-Boosters didn’t know what else they could do because they had no idea what to expect financially. Best to start conservatively, but now — who knows? They’ve got cash and they will need to spend it. And every penny goes to my kids. That’s a great night for Wenatchee journalism.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another national voice on student expression

This opinion piece from the American Press Institute does a good job of explaining the differences between legislation in Washington state and in Kansas. In Washington, the bill would give final authority to publish legal speech to students. In Kansas, the bill would mandate approval by an appointed board of review. Kansas already has a free press law for students. A snippet:

The debate in statehouses and elsewhere ought to be about providing increased opportunities for education, information -- and perhaps even a bit of inspiration -- to student journalists, rather than getting bogged down in already-futile exchanges over regulation.

Students will express themselves in some fashion regardless of what parents, lawmakers, school officials or others decide. The focus should be on providing funds and staff to ensure student journalism is made an integral, effective part of the educational experience.

The alternative won't guarantee either control or sensibility. More likely it will marginalize student voices and send them increasingly to unregulated and unsupervised communication methods - the Web and social-networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube with their ever-growing number of unregulated imitators and innovators.

Gene Policinski of the First Amendment Center wrote the above passage as part of his guest editorial, and the rest is worth a read also. Policinski's words are so important. They help raise the awareness and understanding of this important issue.

It's clear through editorials like the one printed in The Seattle Times a couple weeks ago that there are many, many professional journalists who would easily trade away student rights for the perceived superiority of their own jobs. We must work to change that perspective. The commercial media do not operate under the same set of standards of ownership as the public media do. And students are not agents of the state, nor should they have to submit their ideas for approval by school government officials.

Thank you, Mr. Policinski, for your important opinion piece. May more follow in similar forums.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, February 12, 2007

USA Today supports student free speech

USA Today's editorial page had a strong editorial this morning supporting student freedom of expression. The headline said "Schools fail Free Speech 101." The secondary headline said "Muzzling student publications sends the wrong message.”

The editorial said, "A major function of schools is to prepare students for life in a democracy. And one of the cornerstones of democracy is the free exchange of ideas. Lessons in bowing to life under censorship shouldn't be part of the curriculum." The editorial specifically mentions the legislation in Washington state, and encourages legislators to enact the bill.

The opposing piece contains so many ironic statements from the school principal (from Grandview, Wash.). It’s interesting to see the fallacious logic. In one particularly weak example, the principal says that students should not be able to offer written expression about a fellow teen's suicide because it might encourage copycat suicides and only adults are mature enough to be able to see that. Of course, a rational person can see that writing about a suicide won't cause more suicides. There are a few logical reasons that make good arguments for the principal's position. Too bad she did not mention many of them.

The national media have done a great job of highlighting this important issue. It's the state media that have, with few exceptions, missed the target on why this is important to the future of democracy but also to the future of their own industry. Meanwhile, the bill is still in the House Rules Committee, and it's not known whether it will move anytime soon.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sen. Murray is center stage

The Seattle Times' weekend feature, Letter from Washington, reports that Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who won a seat in 1992 as a self-proclaimed "mom in tennis shoes," has a major role in the Senate leadership and that she is becoming the loudest voice from Washington state against the war in Iraq. Interesting stuff. The Letter from Washington accurately points out that Murray is the No. 1 favorite senator from these parts in the minds of veterans. They love her. That also gives her credibility on veterans and defense issues.

Murray has had a role in leadership for a few years now, since Sen. Tom Daschle included her in an advisory capacity back when he was Democratic leader. Now, she's the Democratic Conference Secretary. It's god clout for Washington state, and this "mom in tennis shoes" knows how to get things done in D.C.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

The latest WJEA News

The Washington Journalism Education Association, of which I am an active member, has a Weblog on blogspot as well. It's been revitalized and should be plenty active with a bunch of updates on legislation moving through Olympia that would guarantee free press rights to high school students (HB 1307).

It's worth checking.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

The Dems are off and running

I caught the last half of the announcement speech of Sen. Barack Obama this morning, live from Springfield, Ill., at the old statehouse. The site was symbolic, evoking the history of Abraham Lincoln, who served eight years there, and Obama's own history as a state legislator. And, man, that guy can speak!

My thoughts on the candidates:
Sen. Barack Obama: Obama's candidacy is being called the first by an African American who is mainstream and who has a legitimate chance at claiming the nomination and perhaps the presidency. By all measures, he is a rock star, and he is smart to make his run while his popularity is rising. Maybe I am a traditionalist, but I like my presidential candidates to have some experience as an executive or as a legislator on the national level. A good speech and a lot of heart both help me feel good about being a Democrat and an American, but when it comes time to mark a box, I want some experience in there. My prediction is really that he will flame out. A combination of the liberalism of the Democratic primary voters versus his moderate positions (especially involving faith), the split of the black vote (very loyal to Clinton and Gore) and the fact that he has not continued to increase in popularity since he announced he was interested in running all point toward an exit before the convention.

Sen. Hillary Clinton: She's been labeled the front-runner by the media, but I don't think that means a heck of a lot with a year before anyone starts actually voting. She has a long time to screw up her campaign. I do believe the campaign is hers to lose, though. So far it seems like it is Hillary and then everyone else. She is far to conservative for me as a primary voter, and I think she is far more valuable to the nation as a legislator than as an executive. Still, it would be awesome to see her campaign against whomever the Republicans put up.

John Edwards: This is th guy who has been running for president pretty much since he lost the race with John Kerry in 2004. He should be the front-runner. He has focused sharply on domestic issues such as poverty and has kept his profile high. He has the experience of a national campaign -- both his primary campaign and as the vice presidential candidate last time around. He has the strongest network in the first caucus state of Iowa, and he should be very popular in the second primary state of South Carolina -- at least enough to offset the black vote that might go to Obama or Clinton. I think Edwards seems to have maintained his centrist roots while beefing up his populist credentials. He could be the tested alternative people turn to if Obama and Clinton flame out.

Vice President Al Gore: I wouldn't count out the 2000 nominee. He's had a great year -- the go-to guy for all things global warming, a runaway hit movie in "An Inconvenient Truth," nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global climate change. With all that, why would he want to get back into presidential politics? Well, to claim what was rightfully his from 2000. Gore could be a nice safe alternative -- tested, sharper than 2000, refocused. How cool would it be if he announced his candidacy if he gets to make an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. Maybe that would be a reason for Academy voters to propel the film to the stage.

Gov. Bill Richardson: The New Mexico governor has the best resume of any candidate in the field after Gore -- Latino governor of a swing state, congressman, ambassador, international day-saver. He's still the one people turn to for negotiations with North Korea. He's been on the short list for veep twice. He's also the kind of candidate the Dems should be turning to -- people actually out in the trenches working on the issues that American voters think are important, such as health care and immigration. New Mexico is also a state that will be crucial for the Democrats in what is finally shaping up to be a Southwestern strategy. Holding the 2008 convention in Denver was also a smart move. Richardson is in a position to look like the one who can say,"Been there, done that." If he doesn't get the nomination, Obama or Clinton or Edwards or Gore should definitely pick him as a running mate. He's golden.

Gov. Tom Vilsack: The former Iowa governor was a veep short-lister in 2004, a moderate who has a record of success in a Midwestern state. Problem is, outside Iowa, where he obviously has great name recognition for the early caucus, he will have a really hard time getting any coverage in the shadow of the big stars.

Sen. Joe Biden: Dude, it was over before it began. This is a year when you have to be a star and dig out a niche. The niche he dug was for someone who can't articulate his message and chokes on his own foot on the same day he announced he was running. Get out now and dust off the resume for Secretary of State.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: The fringe lefties love this guy, but he is a non-starter. There are other anti-war candidates, and his main role is to keep everyone honest. Bless him for running and for standing up for his convictions. Someone has to.

Sen. Chris Dodd: The Connecticut senator may have had a chance in 2004, and his connections as a former chair of the DNC would be helpful, but come on. He's up against two mega-stars and possibly a former nominee and a former vice presidential nominee. No way.

Gen. Wesley Clark: His year was 2004, and he didn't capitalize on it. I like the mix of military toughness and centrist politics, but I think a former general is not the guy to knock off the front-runners in this crowded campaign. Get out and save face for a top administration post.

The nice part is there are also some others out there to help, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (Clinton, Edwards or Obama would be smart to pick him as a running mate). A crowded field should thin by the end of 2007, and I suspect there will be just a handful of legitimate candidates when the actual voting starts in January 2008. The downside is that if the last candidate standing will still have a long time for the media and Republicans to dig up dirt. Other factors such as YouTube and bloggers make this dangerous waters -- just ask George Allen. Could be a nice way for someone to be drafted to save the party. We'll see. There's a long time till the voting begins.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Readers have their say about The Times

The Seattle Times published in its Thursday edition four letters about its editorial of a week ago. The letters and editorial are regarding HB 1307, the student free press bill.

Read the letters here:

The four are from a Tacoma student, a Puyallup teacher, the president of our state journalism teachers' association and a Colorado teacher. Colorado already has a law similar to the one proposed here.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Public praise

The school newspaper I advise was the front-page feature in the community newspaper this evening. It was a bit of a delay from when my students earned a major award in November. Still, it was a nice feature to see, and I suspect there will be much complimenting at work tomorrow. The students had some nice things to say about me, and that was pleasant, of course.

Interestingly, the reporter wanted to see a typical layout night, which honestly doesn't happen very often. She and the photographer arrived at school around 4 p.m., when the mood was light and the amount of work accomplished was on track. However, the night ended up being the longest we've been there all year, in some part due to the distraction of the photographer and reporter. Still, we ended the night fine and it was good to get the coverage.

By the way, turns out the reporter is a former student of one of my good friends and colleagues from the south Puget Sound area. Small world.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Student Free Press Update

The politics section of the blogs at The Seattle Times has a nice little write up over this week's Times editorial about the Washington student free press bill in the Legislature. There's a link to Mark Goodman's SPLC letter, which appeared in full via Romenesko at Poynter.

Still no letters printed or online in The Times as of Sunday (the P-I had one Thursday but not in response to any story, just a general support letter). You can read and/or post comments to the blog, though. The comments represent an interesting cross-section of rants (and a couple well-reasoned ones from me and colleagues).

Meanwhile, on Saturday, The News Tribune of Tacoma co-sponsored a forum on student free press rights. Read a story about the event.

UPDATE to the Update: The Daily, the newspaper at the University of Washington, has an article about HB 1307 moving from the House Judiciary Committee to the Rules Committee. The article quotes my testimony from teh Jan. 26 hearing in Olympia.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Making youngsters hate the media

As part of the debate about House Bill 1307, a bill in the Washington Legislature which would protect the free speech and press rights of high school and college students, The Seattle Times published an editorial on Feb. 1 that demonstrated a true misunderstanding of the facts involved in the situation. The Times suggested, among other things, that a compromise in the bill could be reached by having the teacher, not the school administrator, serve as the person who has the "final say" as to what gets printed. That's absurd. It would only increase the pressure on students and teachers to "tow the line" because it would be a rare teacher who would have the confidence to encourage students when his or her own neck is on the line. Why can't we just trust the students to make a good decision once we have taught them the law?

Unfortunately, The Times' editorial board represents the exact same thinking we have seen from newspapers in Yakima, in Walla Walla, in Vancouver and in other people all over the state. The sad part is, if the commercial media are so unwilling to go to the mat for young people, how will we ever expect average citizens to do so? Yet, many individuals who work in schools, individual parents and certainly individual students immediately grasp what The Times could not: students at schools can be trusted with full rights and, in fact, this law is needed because some school administrators create climates in their schools where the only acceptable speech or writing is that does not embarrass or criticize the school.

Read The Seattle Times editorial.

Then, a wonderfully articulate response from Mark Goodman, the director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., posted to an e-mail discussion list for journalism educators to which I subscribe.

By Mark Goodman, Executive Director
Student Press Law Center

Why young people hate the media

A big part of our job here at the Student Press Law Center is helping young people understand and appreciate the role of the media in a free society and the importance of press freedom to all people. That job has never been more of a challenge than it is today for two reasons. First, school censorship of the student press has become so institutionalized in many communities that a generation of young people believe it's only appropriate that government officials dictate what the public may read, watch or hear.

But the other reason is one that's especially galling to us, given our organization's mission: time and again, young people see a commercial news media that believes the First Amendment should only be big enough to cover its own behind and that press freedom really isn't that important unless it is somehow the direct beneficiary of its protection. (There are exceptions, especially among the organizations of professional journalists and a growing group of individual reporters and editors who understand that the future of a free press is in the hands of the next generation. But on editorial pages around the country, reading of support for student voices is the rare exception, not the rule.)

Today, the Seattle Times published a mind-bogglingly naïve editorial opposing a bill pending before the Washington legislature that would provide basic (and minimal) free press protections to public high school and college journalists. The bill proposed in Washington is similar to those that have been enacted in six other states, none of which have experienced the dire educational consequences the Times editorial suggests will result. (Ask those involved in high school education in Iowa, for example, whether student journalism has suffered since their student free expression law was enacted in 1989. They will tell you just the opposite; it's only grown stronger because students and school administrators have a clear definition of their legal rights and responsibilities.)

Yet the Times believes the bill would not allow journalism teachers to teach "editorial judgment," implying that the only way to do that is from censorship by a school official. The Times solution: make the adviser the censor, the one who has the final say over the content of the publication. It's a system reminiscent of the old Soviet Union; let the government appoint the censors (who of course are paid by the government and whose jobs depend on keeping their government employers happy) and suddenly the censorship isn't a problem any more, it's "editing."

The irony, of course, is that in Washington state (and everywhere else), high school journalism teachers are the biggest proponents of these student free expression laws. (Both the Washington Journalism Education Association and the state's largest teachers' union, the Washington Education Association, endorsed the bill.) The educators on the front lines of teaching journalism in American schools don't want to be determining the content of their students' publications; they want to teach and advise. They know that the only way they can instill the true meaning of the First Amendment in the hearts of young Americans is to teach them by example what a free press and free expression means. And they also know that if they are the ones responsible for making content decisions, their jobs will be on the line if they let anything that reflects negatively on the school see the light of day, no matter how factually accurate and journalistically sound it might be. The Seattle Times editorial board could not be bothered with those facts.

So if I am one of the more than 100 young people who packed a hearing room of the legislature last week to show their support for the bill (or the thousands of their peers who couldn't get out of school but were there in spirit), what do I make of this? Once again, the commercial news media has betrayed us. They are desperate for us as readers to stop the precipitous decline in circulation of their publications, but they can't be bothered to consider our perspective on the issues that matter to us most and that are directly related to the future of their profession.

Our work at the Student Press Law Center got harder today. But we aren't giving up. With the support of many allies in the commercial media and education, we will continue our efforts to help high school and college students understand that a free press is really as important as the First Amendment suggests. Too bad the Seattle Times did the exact opposite.
I've also seen letters of response from the Washington Journalism Education Association, the Journalism Education Association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.