Liability in writing: keeping the paper clean

It is of utter importance to assure the staff produces lawful, and liability-free writing. In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, it has been determined that the schools carry the right to censor school-sponsored publications (non-public forums) under the concern that published material is, “Reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical purpose.”

The Journalism Education Association’s Adviser Code of Ethics affirms, “The role of a teacher/adviser is to guide and instruct, not to prohibit or censor.”

On my staff, we assure proof of interviews (written, signed, recorded, or physical proof of email or text message), to prevent the publishing of legally-sensitive material that could put us under the dreaded curse phrase of prior review.

In example, last year, we had a legal concern in regards to potentially false, inflammatory interviews regarding bullying within a story. Parents of the interviewee brought the case to the school, however after investigation, we disclosed that the reporter kept her integrity with clear evidence of an interview, even the interviewee’s signature. Therefore, we were able to keep the story published, and there was no imminent threat of prior review.

However, it is important to note that, as the courts stated in Yeo v. Town of Lexington,“School officials have an interest in [students’] autonomy to make educational decisions. Officials have determined the best way to teach journalism skills is to respect the students’ editorial judgment, a degree of autonomy similar to that exercised by professional journalists. That choice by the officials parallels the allocation of responsibility for editorial judgments made by the First Amendment itself.”

This assures that schools are most quite protected from liability when they leave decisions to students on the basis of journalistic papers and clubs. This brings me back to my advisor  statement, when in the presence of one, students are less likely to publish material within The Unprotected Nine.

It is these elements that my editor staff and I consider before publishing material, and it is the understanding of important court cases that allow us to follow the correct processes when liable issues do arise.

To see further analysis of a case regarding The Unprotected Nine, see libel law case.


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