Teaching Examples

Journalists vs. the academy
May 13, 2006, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

At all levels of the U.S. education system, champions of free speech and press have sometimes come to conflict with school administrators. The latest example of this: At Hampton University’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Mass Communications, longtime Time magazine correspondent and editor Jack White quit teaching because “the atmosphere in Hampton is in contradiction to the goals of a journalism program” (according to the Daily Press, Newport News, Va., May 12, 2006).

In 2003, university administrators seized copies of the student-run newspaper, the Hampton Script, when editors ran a letter by acting President and Provost JoAnn Haysbert on the third page, rather than on the cover, as she had asked.

Last year, a student faced expulsion after being accused of handing out fliers about the Bush administration, genocide in Sudan, AIDS awareness and homophobia.

The recurring tension between administrators (at the secondary-school level as well as in universities) and journalism educators and their students stems from an attitude toward the truth. You could sum it up this way: “Only good news should be news.” This is especially evident when the news concerns the school in any way. When a student newspaper tries to publish any news that might place the school in a negative light, then truth is no longer a defense.

So if you wonder why the content of the news media seems bland — even irrelevant — why not look at how student journalists and their teachers are bound and gagged by their school administrators? In such an atmosphere, students learn to toe the line to succeed.

Check out the resources at the Student Press Law Center if these ideas are new to you.

If journalists are to learn how to be hard-hitting investigators, the principles of honest (not timid) journalism should be championed in the schools. If we emphasize responsibility and careful fact-checking — rather than “Don’t make anyone angry” — we will all benefit from better journalism, more transparency, and greater accountability.

Journalism is not supposed to be a lapdog, benignly licking the hand that feeds it. Lapdogs never bark when someone is sneaking in to rob your house.

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