Seattle student press rights hanging in the balance

Seattle area students and advisers meet Nov.8 to celebrate and discuss future plans.

by John Bowen and Kathy Schrier from the Washington Journalism Education Association to the Student Press Rights Commission blog

Principals will not have a chance to prior review Seattle School District journalism students because the school board recently withdrew its proposed and controversial policy change.

“As a former journalism teacher, it is important for me — as I know it is for our Board — that we uphold our practice of trusting our teachers to educate our students on the rights and responsibilities that come with freedom of expression and a free press,” Interim Superintendent of Schools, Susan Enfield, a former journalism teacher and adviser,  said in a press release.

Supporters of the existing free expression policy will now have a year to convince the Seattle School District board to keep its hands off and continue to encourage students to make final decisions and have responsibility for content.

During the first week of November as part of a system-wide policy overhaul, school officials announced they would seek to change a 2o-year policy of allowing students to make final decisions of content without prior review. The Washington State School Directors Association had recommended the new policy.

Washington students, advisers, media groups and citizens mounted a public and active four-day campaign reporting about and speaking against the policy change.

The press release indicated the school district would revisit the issue in 2012 to see how a policy change might fit with community values.

Students and supporters met Nov. 8 to celebrate and plan

Student journalists from five of Seattle’s high schools (Ballard, Garfield, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt and West Seattle) met Nov. 8 in the Nathan Hale journalism room to debrief following a promise by Seattle interim Superintendent Susan Enfield to leave unchanged the district’s current student press rights policy. The meeting followed a four-day, whirlwind campaign to thwart the passage of Policy 3220, a controversial, restrictive student press policy.

The students came together to celebrate the immediate victory, as well as to talk about how they must work together to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. The discussion focused on how the district policy-making process appears to be badly flawed, especially since some school board members seem to be ready to approve policies they haven’t even read.

Students plan to create a Facebook page and a website to keep in touch with each other, as well as to co-produce an article and possible insert about procedures used to decide policies in their school district. Students hope to run the piece in all their papers at about the same time. A coalition of Seattle student journalists is now in the works with plans to meet regularly.

Applauded for their efforts in fighting back the passage of Policy 3220 were Katie Kennedy and Kate Clark, Ballard High School editors, who went on the attack with community flyers, letters to school board members and on-air interviews with local talk radio hosts.  The group also applauded NPR reporter Phyllis Fletcher, KPLU-FM Seattle (who was in the room covering the meeting), for first discovering the proposed policy change and alerting Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center, who in turn contacted the Washington Journalism Education Association.

Fletcher shared how she discovered the information on the policy. She explained how, as part of  her regular preparation for covering upcoming school board meetings, she looks at the agenda and tries to become familiar with the items for consideration. A red flag went up when she discovered the language in Policy 3220 under consideration.

Clearly, her quick action made all the difference in preventing its passage.

Garfield High School adviser Casey Henry shared with the group a late afternoon message to Seattle journalism advisers from Susan Enfield, in which she apologized for the “consternation” caused by the whole ordeal and promised to make sure any future revisions to the scholastic press policy in Seattle  will include input from media advisers.

Students in the room added  they should be included, as well, and intend to make that known to the superintendent and the board.

This was a close call for student journalists in Seattle Schools, with lessons to be learned about staying vigilant. In fact, the students discussed creating a session for the 2012 National JEA/NSPA Spring Convention in Seattle, a case study on four frantic days for student journalists and their supporters in Seattle that fortunately ended positively.

Coverage from Seattle-area media

Announcing the proposed change
• Stop the presses, let the principal check them first
• Seattle school board moves to censor student newspapers
• Proposed Seattle school-newspaper policy raises censorship concerns
• Students say Seattle school board threatens censorship

Announcing the withdrawal of the proposed changes
• Seattle public schools beats hasty retreat
• Students say school board ‘setting the stage for censorship’
• Proposed ‘censorship’ policy for school newspaper withdrawn (Ballard High School)
• Ballard High newspaper editor-in-chief Kate Clark on her censorship fight with the Seattle school board
• School board withdraws controversial proposal: free speech maintained for students
• Seattle public schools withdraws controversial student newspaper oversight proposal
• Schools back off on policing student papers
• KUOW-FM late afternoon story/interview with Ballard editors Kate and Katie
• The Stranger

Other coverage
• How Seattle journalist got school censorship scoop
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012
• Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012


Seattle editors weigh in on anonymous comments

(Weigh in with your own thoughts in our community forum)

It happens every time a news story on a controversial topic hits the web: Angry rants, nasty name-calling, personal attacks, and defensive replies.

All can be found regularly in the comments sections of online news articles and opinion columns, including many blogs. Some topics, such as public safety, racial conflicts, immigration policy, and urban bicycling, seem to draw the most vehement responses.

Many readers – probably now the majority – post their comments anonymously. Unlike printed letters to the editors, on which most newspapers ask writers to include a real name, street address and telephone number for verification, online news sites don’t typically require full public identification. Even if commenters are asked to register online, they may use nicknames to conceal their true identities.

The Buffalo News recently became the first major American daily newspaper to ban anonymous comments on its website, which provoked nationwide discussion on the policy.

As a journalist, regular online news consumer, and occasional commenter, I go back and forth on my own view toward anonymous comments. I’m accustomed to putting my name next to my opinions in articles and on the web, so I don’t mind identifying myself in a discussion forum. I figure that if I’m willing to write an opinion, I should be willing to back it up with my name.

However, I’m also well aware that many people – including some of my friends and family –  are far less comfortable leaving their names on open forums on the Internet. They aren’t accustomed to being a public face or name, and they worry

about privacy and personal attacks. In some cases, they may be commenting on topics that relate to their own workplace or social networks, and feel they can be more honest by remaining anonymous.

As an advocate for free and open dialogue, I’d rather see comment sections filled with posts rather than completely empty. And, for my own personal needs as a journalist, comments often help me write a better story or follow up news with subsequent articles. I do cringe, however, at times when reading particularly nasty attacks in online forums.

When Washington News Council president John Hamer asked me if I wanted to weigh in on the issue, I decided that given my own conflicted views on the subject, I’d like to hear what local editors are doing and how they feel about anonymous comments. I emailed questions to The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut, West Seattle Blog, and the Federal Way Mirror, and a few other news outlets that did not respond. Here are their responses:

[Read more...]


30-something v. 60-something: Blogging across the demographic divide

photo by Jay Cox :: of the week: Do you still subscribe to a printed daily newspaper?

by Washington News Council’s Heidi Dietrich and John Hamer

About Heidi DietrichNO! by Heidi Dietrich, age 30

This winter, for the first time since college, I stopped subscribing to a daily newspaper.

It pained me to phone in the cancellation to the Seattle Times’ circulation department. I kept the subscription going for the past couple of years because I couldn’t stand to contribute to the sad decline of the print newspaper business. It’s a problem that hits close to home. After seven years at the Puget Sound Business Journal, I was laid off last April due to sinking revenue.

It also hurt because I grew up in a newspaper family. My dad worked first for The Columbian in Vancouver, and then for The Seattle Times as I was growing up. The newspaper was a part of daily life. When my sister and I were young, my father read the comics to us at the Sunday breakfast table. Later, we read the articles on our own, vying for the Sunday travel and lifestyle sections. As an adult, I looked forward to spending a few moments with the newspaper and a cup of coffee in the morning.

But in the last few years, the daily newspaper began to change. Thanks to shrinking revenue, the paper itself grew smaller and smaller, with less in-depth features and enterprise reporting. Sections were eliminated or combined. Letters to the editor were relegated to a small part of the page.

And, most importantly, I’d already read the articles. I’d seen the news appear on my Twitter feed and gone to a number of online news sites to get the stories. By the time the paper landed on my doorstep, it was old news. More and more, keeping the subscription felt like a charity case.

I’d held out far longer than most of my peers. Most of my friends never even started subscribing to a daily newspaper, since they could already rely on the Internet after graduating from college. Others subscribed for a time but abandoned the practice as online news became more and more prevalent. Most newspaper subscribers I knew were my parents’ and grandparents’ age.

It’s been a few months since I stopped receiving a newspaper, and it’s interesting to see how my news consumption habits have changed. I read just as much news as before, but less from The Seattle Times, as I’m more apt to link to a variety of news sites. I regularly check national papers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, neighborhood news sites such as MyBallard, and niche web sites such as TechFlash or Cliff Mass’ weather blog. Beyond the serious news sites, I visit blogs on cooking, running, the outdoors, and music.

I’m just as likely to browse an article at 9 p.m. as at the breakfast table. I learned about the Lusty Lady closing and a modern downtown Seattle highrise being torn down yesterday afternoon on Twitter. I find I most often first hear about breaking news via Tweets and Facebook posts, and then link to the actual articles on a news site.

What about you? Are you still subscribing? Leave a comment here.

About John HamerYES! by John Hamer, age 64

This morning, like most mornings, I walked out to the end of my driveway and picked up The Seattle Times.

I laid it out on the kitchen counter, poured myself a cup of coffee, filled a bowl with cereal, sliced a couple of strawberries on top, and began to read my morning newspaper.

Front page. Editorial page. Northwest section. Comics. Sports page. OK, I just skim some of it, but I always find something interesting and worth reading. And I usually glance at the ads, especially the full-page ones.

Am I part of a dying breed? Sometimes I feel that way.

But when I moderated a panel at Seattle Rotary a couple of weeks ago on the future of newspapers, I asked for a show of hands: How many people still read The Seattle Times on paper? Of the 500 Rotarians present, at least three-fourths of them raised their hands. OK, there was a lot of grey hair in this crowd….

Then I asked: How many also read The Seattle Times online? More than half of those in the room raised their hands. (David Boardman, Times executive editor and one of my panelists, began to applaud.)

But as the blog by Heidi Dietrich on this page makes clear, many younger people have stopped subscribing to newspapers and get most of their news online. (BTW, welcome to Heidi, who will now be blogging regularly on this page about media issues and ethics.)

Newspapers used to have a kind of monopoly on the news, but in the Internet era those days are gone. People have many more options for news and information, and the mainstream newspapers are struggling to adjust to the “new news ecosystem.”

We’re clearly in a transition period where some people (like me) still like the touch and feel of newsprint in our hands and others (like Heidi) prefer to get their news electronically, whether on a laptop, Blackberry, Kindle, iPhone or iPad or other device.

Granted, I also read at least a half-dozen other news websites online, however, including some that gather stories from dozens of news sites all over the world. Today, news junkies can mainline online until they virtually overdose on news.

Still, there’s something about having that newspaper with my coffee in the morning. The crinkly feel of newsprint. The faint scent of ink. The full-page color ads.

How about you? Comments welcome! Leave a comment here.