LAW, ETHICS &
The First Amendment right to freedom of the press is the first piece of information displayed on the publication tab of El Estoque’s website, an apt reminder to both our readers and our staff of the freedoms that buttress their ability to write for our publication.
Our most important lesson on journalistic law, however, occurs at JCamp, a multi-school, three day intensive journalism camp where we commence the new academic year. There, we taught our staff about California Ed Code 48907 — the second piece of information on our Policies tab. In our lesson, we emphasized the specific parts of Ed. Code that our staff should familiarize themselves with and lead small group discussions on various ethical scenarios.
CALIFORNIA EDUCATION CODE 48907
(a) Pupils of the public schools, including charter schools, shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia, and the right of expression in official publications, whether or not the publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, except that expression shall be prohibited which is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Also prohibited shall be material that so incites pupils as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.
(d) There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications except insofar as it violates this section. School officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to a limitation of pupil expression under this section.
(g) An employee shall not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against solely for acting to protect a pupil engaged in the conduct authorized under this section, or refusing to infringe upon conduct that is protected by this section, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or Section 2 of Article I of the California Constitution.
[Amended by Stats. 2010, Ch. 142, Sec. 2. (SB 438) Effective January 1, 2011.]
To explain the significance of the freedom of expression clause and its applications to high school students, we talked about Tinker v. Des Moines.
We defined obscenity, libel and slander and discussed the line between reporting about controversial topics like Sex Ed curricula and actually violating the Ed. Code.
We discussed the meaning of prior restraint and explored how to navigate legal situations with the Student Press Law Center.
We also spent time discussing the protections that my adviser is guaranteed under the Ed. Code. This built a second layer of trust and community within our publication and showed our staff that they had multiple support systems for pursuing the stories that matter.
At the beginning of the year I edited our mission statement to reflect our future goals. Our mission statement is placed by the Letter to the Editor in each issue to emphasize our commitment to a high code of journalistic ethics.
El Estoque strives for all staff members to be dedicated, well-trained, passionate and provide consistent and diverse coverage of all local stakeholders through its student-run website, social media accounts and print news magazine. Its multiplatform content will be relevant, informative and interesting to the audience and attempt to effect positive change. Through strong communication and collaboration, the El Estoque staff will provide a welcoming atmosphere in order to foster strong relationships between reporters and with members of the community. El Estoque will be a trusted open forum, providing unbiased, truthful and accurate content through maintaining high quality standards and professionalism in all interactions. It will exercise the press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and California Ed Code 48907 while maintaining a strong ethical code.
I wanted to emphasize El Estoque’s commitment to uplifting all voices in our community, especially ones that are often suppressed. Through our rigorous pitching and sourcing process, our staff strives to fulfill this commitment.
This part of our mission statement highlights the importance of local journalism in being a pillar of the community that could be trusted to provide unbiased and timely content.
Our mission statement also stresses the protections under which we operate to inform our community that our ethical code accounted for our rights and limitations.
One aspect of my role as Co-EIC that I did not anticipate was the volume of take down requests our publication received. I also revised our Take Down code so that we could objectively assess each request.
TAKE DOWN REQUESTS
El Estoque must always strive for the highest standards of accuracy, completeness and careful research in its presentation of material. In the case that inaccurate material is published, the staff will assume responsibility for the error and correct it as soon as possible. If the reader believes such an error has been made, they are encouraged to contact the respective reporter. We will correct any factual or source representation errors and document the date and time the correction was posted at the bottom of the story or in the next issue of the magazine as such: Correction: Date + time, One-sentence about the update and why it was made. El Estoque does not typically take down stories that are factually accurate.
Our ethics code emphasized our commitment to accuracy through this section. If our publication makes a mistake in our magazine, where errors are more difficult to immediately correct, we publish the correction in the next issue.
This is a frequently cited line in take down correspondences. We take permission before including any source’s words and photos in a story, and unless we make an error, we believe it is important to keep that content up.
In one of the first requests we received as Editor-in-Chief, an alum requested to have her name removed and cited safety concerns. Since there was nothing factually inaccurate about the article, we were initially unsure as to how to navigate the situation.
A combination of posts, reels and live coverage constitute our Instagram coverage now.
Ultimately, we decided to find a middle ground — we decided to remove her name from the tags on our story, which would prevent the stories from coming up if anyone searched up her name.
ETHICAL USE OF MY PLATFORM
Another ethical dilemma I encountered as a section editor and as Co-EIC was the question of whether of not I should publish a story just because I could. California Ed Code 48907 and my school's administration has given my publication a lot of freedom to cover topics and perspectives on campus, and covering all sides of an issue has always been an integral aspect of the journalistic standard we live up to on El Estoque.
Thus, while writing about the #MeToo movement in my community, I felt it was crucial to not just interview those who were participating in the movement, but also those who opposed it. I reached out to someone who had posted a message criticizing the people who were speaking up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault on their story and asked him if I could interview him. He agreed under the condition that he remained anonymous in the story, as he'd been receiving death threats.
The quotes from his interview were tremendously valuable because they contained a perspective I knew was held by many at my school, but it was also one that was often unrepresented because most people were too afraid to voice their views. Yet, I spent a lot of time with my co-writer, co-editor, Editor-in-Chief and debating whether or not I should include his quotes in the story. Doing so would give him a platform to voice openly misogynistic claims that directly insulted women who'd chosen to speak about their trauma without any accountability because he was an anonymous source. Ultimately, I decided that neglecting to represent his perspective would be a disservice to the story and the challenges faced by those in the movement. I decided to structure the story that each of his inflammatory claims were followed by a quote from a #MeToo activist refuting his claim.
I followed inflammatory claims with a nuanced take refuting the claim in order to represent all perspectives without creating room for misinformation on El Estoque.
On my own staff, I’ve strived to take the lessons I learned about News Literacy as a Medill Cherub and teach them through mini-lessons. However, I also wanted to expand my reach to publications where an understanding of the Ed Code and journalistic law and ethics wasn’t already so ingrained in the staff. When my adviser gave us the opportunity to lead JCamp for a publication she was mentoring, I jumped at the opportunity.
At Sequoia High School, I spoke about the importance of school publications in the journalistic landscape. As more and more local publications are forced to shut down due to a lack of resources, school newspapers often become the only source of local news. This knowledge is what galvanizes me to constantly pursue the truth and lead my publication through challenges, and I wanted the journalists at Sequoia to feel a similar sense of empowerment in their role as a pillar of democracy.