New scholastic research

By David Bulla

An Arkansas research study shows that newspapers at larger high schools in that state increased their coverage of controversial matters in news and feature stories after a 1994 protective law for student free expression took effect.

The study, completed by University of Arkansas at Little Rock journalism professor Bruce Plopper and Hot Springs Lakeside High School teacher Jennifer Garner, explained the reasons for the increase in the larger schools — while a decrease occurred in smaller schools — was the “amount of education and advising experience a given school’s adviser possessed.” The authors added: “in a school where the journalism adviser had journalism training and long-term experience, the principal may never have exercised the option to censor.”

In other research presented to the Scholastic Journalism Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication national conference in Boston, a trio of scholars found that principals’ knowledge of the First Amendment was increasing over the the time period 2004 to 2009. On the other hand, principals in the survey by Vincent Filak of the, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Warren Watson of Ball State University and Adam Maksl   of the University of Missouri expressed high level of disagreement with the idea the statement “Schools should be prohibited from punishing students for online activities they engage in outside of school.”

In her paper “Tinkering with Free Expression: Student Rights in the Age of MySpace,” Lola Burnham, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, examined how the rights affirmed in the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines have been “chipped away at” in the intervening 40 years. Burnham argued that the 2007 Morse v. Frederick opinion, in particular, has been misinterpreted in lower court decisions in cases involving fake MySpace pages created by students about their school principals.

In study done by Geoffrey Graybeal and Ann Hollifield at the University of Georgia, it was found that exposing young people to newspapership at home will not cause them to continue the habit once they reached college, at least in terms of reading a student newspaper both in print and online. The researchers suggest that the very nature of college may explain this phenomenon, in that “college freshmen are on their own for the first time in their lives and given more freedom in their consumption of news, they follow news less.”

AEJMC members may download all Boston conference papers from the All-Academic Web site.

Non-AEJMC members can contact David Bulla to get a PDF copy of any Scholastic Division research paper.

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