School Newspapers Meet Social Networking
If you haven’t yet checked out Hunterdon Central’s The Lamp Online, you really must. The students and their advisor, English teacher Tom McHale have done a fantastic job and the online publication is snappy, professional and informational. Taken directly from the publication’s mission statement, “the online student newspaper of Hunterdon Central Regional High School is an open, public forum for student expression, to promote inquiry and to provide an authentic venue to showcase student work. Opinions expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the position of the school board, administration, sponsors, staff, or student body.”
Once again, we tread into some interesting territory as we continue to embrace the many opportunities offered by technology. Traditionally, student newspapers have been tightly controlled by school districts and content considered the property of the district. At Hunterdon Central as both the principal and the superintendent, I have always given wide discretion to The Lamp. The circumstances in which I have asked to see the content of the paper prior to publication have been extremely rare. Perhaps because I was a newspaper reporter myself when I was in my 20’s I have a different level of respect for freedom of the press. I have also enjoyed the benefits of extremely conscientious student reporters and a student newspaper advisor with whom I share a common sense of what is appropriate and what is not. We are also extremely fortunate to have the support of a Board of Education that embraces divergent opinions and perspectives. This is one of many factors that make Hunterdon Central a forward thinking, progressive district. We are a district that values leadership at every level.
So now, we have the online publication and a marked relinquishment of control. We are excited about taking the leap to allow opinions and the posting of content from across all sectors of our school community (students and staff) who are registered users of the site. As a team, we have committed to “responsible discussion within our school community.” We have also committed to allowing divergent opinions that, when expressed in an appropriate manner, will remain posted to this online, public forum. We have come a long way from the parameters set forth in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case that held that “speech that can be reasonably viewed to have the school’s imprimatur can be regulated by the school if the school has a limited pedagogical concern in regulating the speech.” With the online publication, other than profanity, hate speech, personal attacks, false/inaccurate information or plagiarism; content will be permitted and remain in the public domain. Kind of like the school newspaper meets social networking.
We have been working over these past months to craft a policy for students and staff that want to post and comment to our online student newspaper. The proposed policy states that The Lamp Online staff will work toward meeting the standards set for professional journalism developed by the Journalism Education Association. This includes, but it is not limited to, a code of ethics concerning accuracy, balance, fairness, independence, and responsibility.
I have great faith and confidence that this “leap of faith” has far more benefits than risks. We shall see.