Logan Aimone teaches journalism at University of Chicago Laboratory High School, where he advises the newspaper and yearbook staffs. He is also the Vice Chair of SPLC’s Board of Directors. Learn more about Logan.
Editor’s Note: On Aug. 27. this blogpost was edited to clarify the definition of “both sides” journalism and why it’s a problem.
1. Know your rights, and teach students about theirs
When students make content decisions, they experience the fundamental right of Freedom of the Press — the foundation of journalism and essential to democracy. The best source for educational resources is the SPLC website, which has information on student press law for every state, relevant court cases, copyright and fair use, libel and defamation, accessing public records, and quizzes. You can book a guest presentation from the Virtual Speakers Bureau. If you have a question or need help, submit the legal hotline form and an attorney will reply. It’s all free!
2. Strive for accuracy, fairness and transparency
One good rule for staying out of legal trouble is to only publish what you can verify is true. What you publish also must be fair to the sources and topic. Many professional journalists have been revising terminology to ensure accuracy and reduce bias, especially around race and gender. Put in the extra effort to learn about the people in your school community, and ensure they are portrayed accurately. Avoiding conflicts of interest is hard in a school setting, but if you can’t avoid one, disclose it.
3. Avoid “both sides” journalism
It’s common to see professional journalists present complicated issues with two viewpoints — one source on Side A and one on Side B. Few issues can be distilled to such simplistic terms, yet reporters seek to appear unbiased by including equivalent sources on “both sides,” resulting in a false balance. To best serve the reader, reporting must contain appropriate context and explain nuances to be accurate. Always seek diverse sources, including those affected by an issue.
4. Enlist support of parents and alumni
Parents want to support their kids and you, so make sure they understand the mission, curriculum and ethics you teach. Organize parents and alumni as ambassadors and advocates for journalism. They know about the valuable experiences. Make sure they proactively share this support with school administrators, who need to hear positive stories.
5. No matter the platform, do great journalism
Newspaper, website, broadcast, literary magazine, yearbook — it’s all journalism. Approach content and presentation at the same time and from a reader perspective. Determine what the reader wants and needs to know, and present the information in a way that facilitates understanding. Strive to improve with each edition, deadline and year, and great journalism will result.