Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Editors chosen to participate in national student press rights group

Mary Turocy and Laura Weiss, The Spoke’s features editor and news editor respectively, were both selected to serve as Student Partners with the Journalism Education Association’s national student outreach program, 45words.

Twelve students were chosen to participate in the program’s second year of activism, from an international pool of 36 applicants. The 45words initiative, established last year by the JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission, works as a student censorship watchdog group, using social media and the Internet to provide resources for student journalists.

“The reason I love journalism is because it allows you to express your voice and the voice of your community, but censorship can corrupt that voice,” Weiss said. “I hope to help the group reach out to students so that we can preserve their rights and let them know that their voices are just as important as anyone else's.”

Weiss and Turocy both expressed excitement at the opportunity to work with the ten other Student Partners and at the chance to further First Amendment rights.

“I want to interact with the scholastic journalism community through my words and my writing, reaching out directly to my peers at the 45words booth during upcoming conventions and writing for the 45words blog, because everyone’s words have power,” Turocy said in her application essay. “Whether they were written by a professional author, by me or by another student journalist, everyone’s words deserve to be heard.”

Both editors follow in the footsteps of The Spoke’s current co-editor-in-chief, Meghan Morris, who, along with last year’s seven other Student Partners, has helped to establish 45words as a reputable student resource for publications facing censorship.

For more information, visit: http://www.45words.org/

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friends of The Spoke recaps past year, announces new co-directors

Around this time last year, you received a package in the mail from an organization called "Friends of The Spoke" -- an emergent group whose goal was to fight a policy proposal in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District. This policy, if passed, would have had a chilling impact on scholastic journalism at The Spoke, essentially prohibiting students from covering any topic that might "reflect poorly on the district."

Because of
your invaluable support and commitment during this time, our organization succeeded in reversing the proposal, keeping intact a system that we believe gives student journalists the opportunity to write and report the truth, regardless of what that might be.

And now, nearly a year after last summerʼs student publications policy dispute, Friends
of The Spoke is still going strong. Over the past few months, weʼve been working on transitioning our website, www.friendsofthespoke.org, into a resource that serves as a reminder of exactly what happened, giving future members of the newspaper staff the tools they need to be informed supporters of the First Amendment at Conestoga High School.

Looking ahead, it is our pleasure to introduce Liz Bravacos and Meghan Morris as co-directors of Friends of The Spoke for the 2010-11 academic year (see their letter below). Together, they bring to the organization a wealth of experience in the world of scholastic press. Liz and Meghan, who served as The Spokeʼs news editor and assistant managing editor this year, respectively, presented a seminar about Friends of The Spoke to 60 student journalists and advisers at the National Scholastic Press Associationʼs spring convention in Portland, Oregon. Additionally, Meghan participates in the Journalism Education Associationʼs Scholastic Press Student Partners program, a national censorship watchdog group that is dedicated to promoting student press rights nationwide.

Under the leadership of these two talented, passionate individuals, it is
our hope that Friends of The Spoke will continue to grow and expand as a resource that provides valuable tools for students journalists across the country. At the same time, Friends of The Spoke will continue its concerted efforts to educate future generations of Spoke reporters about the rights and responsibilities that come with the First Amendment, to ensure that reporters can provide the level of journalism you are accustomed to for years to come.

As always, none of this would be possible without your considerable commitment to the
paper. We sincerely thank you for all you have done, and hope that we will have your continued support as we move forward.


Seth Zweifler
Editor in Chief 2009-10

Henry Rome
Editor in Chief 2008-09

Jonathan Yu
Co-Editor in Chief 2007-08
Nearly a year after the founders of Friends of The Spoke launched a campaign against a proposal of censorship, we are looking forward to taking over as co-directors of Friends ofThe Spoke.

So far, the Friends of The Spoke website has served as a valuable resource for
students across the country, providing helpful strategies for preserving a free press in high schools. We hope to continue to expand upon such open and helpful communication. By providing students with a model for successful campaigns against censorship, we seek to aid fights for press rights.

In the next year, we hope to broaden
the scope of Friends ofThe Spoke, reaching out to more students struggling against censorship, both nationally and locally. We will continue to educate others about our fight through presentations at national and state conventions.

At the local level, we hope to share our story with area schools to promote a greater understanding of the First Amendment and its application to scholastic press.

As we continue to expand Friends of The Spoke, we greatly appreciate any feedback to
understand how we can better serve both our local community and the national scholastic press community.

Thank you for your continued support.


Liz Bravacos
Co-Editor in Chief 2010-11

Meghan Morris
Co-Editor in Chief 2010-11
In the past year, the journalism in The Spoke and the work of Friends of The Spoke have been honored with top national awards. Among the recognition:

Pacemaker Award
The Spoke received its first-ever Pacemaker, the highest commendation presented to a student publication nationwide. From the National Scholastic Press Association.

Top Overall Newspaper Article 2009: Obligation to Report
The investigation detailing state background check policies also was named the National News Story of the Year for 2009. From National Scholastic Press Association/American Society of News Editors.

National Feature Story of the Year 2009: Carrying Hope
Special report looked at the role teen pregnancy plays in the Conestoga community. From National Scholastic Press Association/American Society of News Editors.

Runner up, National Diversity Story of the Year 2009: Coming Out in the Classroom
Special report looked at the lives of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender high school students. From National Scholastic Press Association/American Society of NewsEditors.

National Multimedia Story of the Year: On the streets
Multimedia report followed a Saturday morning ridealong with Tredyffrin police. From National Scholastic Press Association/American Society of News Editors.

Courage in Student Journalism Award: Seth Zweifler and Henry Rome
Awarded for fighting back against censorship. From Student Press Law Center, National Scholastic Press Association, Kent State University.

Zweifler named top Pennsylvania student journalist
Seth Zweifler was also named as a runner-up to the National Student Journalist of the Year.

Morris chosen to serve on national censorship watchdog group
Meghan Morris, The Spoke's co-Editor in Chief, was chosen to serve on the Journalism Education Association's new Scholastic Press Student Partners program.

Editors tackle censorship at national convention
Current and former Spoke editors presented a seminar about fighting back against censorship at the National Scholastic Press Association's spring convention in Portland, Oregon.

In speech to convention, Rome calls censorship "a challenge to democracy"
In an address to thousands of student journalists, Henry Rome said that censorship not only poses a direct threat to journalism but a direct threat to the ideals that define America.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

At national convention, Rome calls censorship "a challenge to democracy"; click for video of the speech

In an address to thousands of student journalists in Portland, Ore., former Spoke Editor in Chief Henry Rome said that administrative censorship not only poses a direct threat to journalism but a direct threat to the ideals that define America.

“When a school tries to supersede the Constitution with district policy, I don’t see it as a challenge to that newspaper,” Rome said. “I see it as a challenge to democracy itself.”

Rome, who was named the National Student Journalist of the Year in 2009, spoke to over 2,500 student journalists and advisers at the opening ceremony of the spring National High School Journalism Convention on April 15. The Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association co-hosted the convention.

Rome drew on his experiences with The Spoke’s investigation into a district custodian accused of bank robbery. The article, “Obligation to Report,” was awarded the National News Story of the Year for 2009 and the Brasler Award for best overall high school article. The article also provided important context for a statewide legislative push to change school background check procedures.

He then discussed last summer’s censorship proposal by the school district, and why he and fellow editors fought back.


Speech by Henry Rome, National Student Journalist of the Year

April 15, 2010 - Opening Ceremony

JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention

Portland, Oregon


Introduction by Jack Kennedy, President, Journalism Education Association

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce to you Henry Rome, graduate of Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

He is one of the most honored high school journalists in history, I can safely say this. Listen to this: When he was a junior, he wrote the News Story of the Year from the NSPA/ASNE contest. When he was a senior, he wrote the News Story of the Year again. He also was part of the Multimedia Story of the Year and he won the Courage in Student Journalism Award.

He is now finishing his freshman year at Princeton University and is also finishing his year as reigning National High School Journalist of the Year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, get up on your feet and say welcome to Henry Rome!


Henry Rome

After that introduction, I’m interested to hear what I have to say.

Thank you to the Journalism Education Association for this tremendous and humbling honor. To NSPA and JEA for what is going to be a fantastic convention week. Thank you to Frank LoMonte and the Student Press Law Center, along with the Pennsylvania School Press Association, for their support. Thank you to The Spoke, the newspaper I called home for four great years. We have two of our editors here tonight, Meghan Morris and Liz Bravacos. And thank you to our two stellar advisers, Susan Houseman and Cyndi Hyatt, for their incredible dedication and support of the paper. Lastly, thanks to my parents and little brother, for putting up with the late production nights and the dinnertime conversations about anonymous sources and prior review.

When I got the call a year ago that I was named journalist of the year, I was knee deep in police reports after an elementary school custodian in our district was taken out of school in handcuffs. The custodian was charged with allegedly robbing two local banks.

The initial police statement was interesting, but I wanted to know more. So I headed to court. That obviously got some looks at school — I was a little too cheerful when I told my friends I was heading to the courthouse. And then it was interesting when I saw one of my classmates at court. Let me tell you, they weren’t there because they wanted to be.

What I found in court papers was troubling — other participants in the robbery said that the custodian was the mastermind, according to the police. And after one of the robberies one evening, the participants allegedly returned to that elementary school to split up the money. Mind you, there were children in the school. I asked the head investigator whether the suspects brought their guns into the school. His response was: well, we’re not sure, but do you think they left the guns in the car?

The events were shocking, but this new information raised more questions. How did a custodian, who passed his background check on initial hiring, end up being charged with bank robbery? My extensive knowledge of criminology, based off the teachings of Horatio Kaine of CSI, told me that it isn’t too likely that a person with a clean record ends up allegedly robbing banks.

The custodian’s record, as it turned out, was far from spotless: He had been arrested on felony aggravated assault charges while he worked for the district. As he was sitting in jail, he ran into an issue as the work week came around. His solution? He took vacation days while he was in jail. Apparently the district had no idea of the charges.

In the end, I found a broken statewide system of crime reporting that legislators demanded be changed. All this came about because I had a feeling, a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. That the original press release did not tell the whole story. And it did not.

The article came out the day before I graduated, and it got a very positive reaction, and a very concerned one too. People were just stunned that this could have happened.

The district wasn’t as thrilled. Only a few weeks after the article came out, the district unveiled a plan to censor the paper. The new proposal took a 15-year-old policy of 86 words and turned it into seven pages of new rules and regulations.

The district planned a comprehensive policy of censorship of all student publications if they reported on something that did not reflect favorably upon the school — favorably, that’s their word. But we knew this proposal not only would censor the paper. It would mean The Spoke would cease to be a newspaper.

It was interesting that the proposal came in 2009, because that year was such a remarkable time in the history of scholastic press rights. For one, the Student Press Law Center, whose lawyers are the best in the country on student press issues, celebrated its 35th anniversary. But 2009 was also the 35th anniversary of a lesser known event — the release of the report that led to the creation of the SPLC. The landmark study was called “Captive Voices: High School Journalism in America.” It was written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jack Nelson, who passed away this October. As the title implies, the report discussed administrative censorship that led to what he called quote “an unquestioning attitude among students, an unhealthy acquiescence in pronouncements of school authorities no matter how unfair or oppressive they may be.”

We knew we had to fight back, lest our paper become another captive voice. So, along with fellow editors Seth Zweifler and Jonathan Yu, we set up an organization called “Friends of The Spoke.” We were aiming for originality in the name. We also set up a Web site, which is still up at friendsofthespoke.org. If you go to the site today, you can learn more about our fight. In addition, we started a facebook page to recruit support. The running joke was that “Friends of The Spoke” would get more friends than I have.

We then sent out three hundred letters to supportive community members and asked for their support. The community delivered, writing letter after letter to the district explaining why the paper needs to stay the same so it can produce the kind of in-depth and investigative reporting they had become accustomed to. We also worked very closely with the Student Press Law Center, who provided tremendous assistance throughout the process.

After five months of fighting, we — the students — won.

I’ll be presenting a seminar with the SPLC about our fight Saturday morning at 10am. I know it’s early, but we’ll have coffee and donuts and some good talk of censorship to get the blood flowing in the morning. I hope you can attend to hear more about how we fought back, and how you can too.

Unfortunately, though, public fights against school districts often don’t turn out as well as it did for us. But what is also disturbing is the fights that don’t happen.

A few weeks ago I met a local high school reporter while covering an event for my college paper. Before long, yes, the conversation turned to censorship. He told me how the principal always had the final say. He said the principal’s actions ensured the reporters were always second guessing themselves and always looking over their shoulders. That’s all too common, and wrong.

The challenges facing student journalists are immense, and even more so if censorship has become entrenched in administrative policy over the years. But whether the censorship is new or established, I challenge you to not take that policy at face value. You are a journalist, and you have rights.

You have a responsibility to exercise those rights, because journalism has an integral responsibility to serve the people in a democracy. The founders didn’t add the First Amendment to our Constitution to protect journalists. No, they added the First Amendment to protect the people, protect the nation — protect our democracy. They knew the critical relationship between the free press and a healthy country. They knew that without a free press, there would be no America.

So when a school tries to supersede the Constitution with district policy, I don’t see it as a challenge to that newspaper. I see it as a challenge to democracy itself.

You may not realize it — and I certainly didn’t until a few years ago — but your work day in and day out is supporting this country. Information is power, and by educating your readers on issues from gambling to pregnancy to religion, you are empowering the people.

That fact was made very clear to us as our censorship fight went on. Community members recognized that student publications provide invaluable experiences for the student journalists. But, more important to them, The Spoke provided an unfiltered and unbiased view of life at the high school. It kept them informed on topics they need to know about.

That’s because journalism is a community service. The college applications probably don’t agree with me on that one, but where else do you have such a great responsibility to uphold the values upon which this country was founded? Where else can you affect so much change and impact so many people?

So how do you protect your right to publish the truth? Start a conversation with your fellow editors, your adviser, your principal. Talk with your state journalism association, the SPLC or the new Scholastic Press Student Partners program. Then, if your rights are threatened, take action.

If you choose to pursue a fight, know it will be long and tough. But know that, in many ways, this is a fight you have to wage. Know that you’re not just fighting for yourself, but for the other editors on your publication. Fight for your younger reporters, so excited to join, so they may have the opportunity to write and report free from retaliation. To exercise their obligation to report the truth.

But your fight is more than just for your paper. Your fight is for your entire school, your community — and, in many ways, for this democracy. Because the people, the people you serve all over this country, deserve to be informed.

Thank you.

As prepared for delivery


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Editors tackle censorship at national convention in Portland, OR

Spoke editors will discuss recent censorship challenge in speech to convention and in seminar called "Fighting Back: Taking on Censorship"

PORTLAND, Oregon — Former and current Spoke editors are taking aim at censorship here this week at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association annual spring convention.

Henry Rome, the former Spoke editor in chief, will address thousands of student journalists and advisers on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the convention’s opening ceremony. Rome, who was named the 2009 National Student Journalist of the Year by JEA, will discuss how fighting censorship represents not just a fight to protect a newspaper, but a fight to protect democracy.

“It is a tremendous honor to address the convention and be able to discuss a topic that is of utmost importance in today’s journalism community — how students can defend against censorship imposed by many school administrators,” Rome said. “This censorship not only threatens student publications, but it threatens the very ideals that define this country: the freedom of the press and the free exchange of ideas.”

On Saturday, editors will join the Student Press Law Center in presenting a seminar called “Fighting Back: Taking on Censorship” that details the censorship fight at The Spoke. The seminar also will give students resources they can use at their own newspaper.

“We’re trying to show students not only how they can fight back against censorship, but that they can fight back — and win,” said Rome, who will present alongside News Editor Liz Bravacos, Assistant Managing Editor Meghan Morris and the SPLC’s Mike Hiestand. The seminar will be on Saturday at 10 a.m.

“Presenting The Spoke's experience with attempted censorship to student journalists and their advisers from across the country is an outstanding opportunity,” Bravacos said. “It's exciting to know that we can help students facing difficult situations and potentially generate positive change.”

Also at the convention:

Help for students, by students
The new Scholastic Press Student Partners program, of which Morris is a member, will have its first official meetings at the convention. The program, a task force of student journalists that acts as a watchdog against censorship, will have a booth at the convention and will conduct outreach efforts to members of the student press community.

The organization will also encourage students to share their opinion about what the First Amendment means to them through videos filmed by SchoolTube. The organization will also introduce the new “Editor’s Emergency Kit,” which includes important resources for publications facing censorship.

“After planning online since January, I look forward to meeting the Student Partners in person. We hope to raise awareness about the First Amendment and its relevance to student journalists, and help students facing censorship,” Morris said.

Zweifler in running for Student Journalist of the Year

Seth Zweifler, The Spoke’s current editor in chief, will learn if he is named the National Student Journalist of the Year for 2010. Zweifler was named the Pennsylvania Student Journalist of the Year in February, and is eligible for the national competition. 

Making your portfolio
Rome will present a seminar with JEA officials called “Producing a Winning Journalist of the Year Portfolio” on Friday at 11 a.m.

Stay connected
Be sure to sign up to learn more about Friends of The Spoke. Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And stay tuned to this site for more updates from Portland.


Friends of The Spoke is an organization dedicated to defending the rights of student journalists at The Spoke and nationwide. The organization was founded in June 2009 by current and former editors of The Spoke, the student newspaper of Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pa., to oppose proposed policies that would have led to censorship of the paper. After five months of discussions, press coverage and widespread local and national support, the district changed its proposal, replacing it with one that correctly identified and defined today's legal standards.

Now, Friends of The Spoke is focused on two goals: keeping the community — students, community members, alumni and state and national journalism organizations — informed about the latest news from The Spoke, and providing journalism programs facing censorship with resources to help aid their campaign.

Editor named top Pennsylvania student journalist

Spoke Editor in Chief Seth Zweifler was named the 2010 Pennsylvania Student Journalist of the Year in March by the Pennsylvania School Press Association.

With this award, Zweifler will receive a $500 scholarship for college from the PSPA. He is also eligible for the title of National Student Journalist of the Year, which will be announced by the Journalism Education Association on April 18 at a national student journalism convention in Portland, OR.

“It’s extremely nice to have your efforts recognized in such a huge way,” Zweifler said. “I’m looking forward to learning the results of the national competition, as well.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Editor chosen to serve on national censorship watchdog group

Meghan Morris, The Spoke’s assistant managing editor, has been named to a new Journalism Education Association national initiative that will serve as a student watchdog against publication censorship.

She was one of eight students chosen from an international pool of 28 applicants for the Scholastic Press Rights Student Partners program.

“I feel honored for such a great opportunity and I look forward to advancing the First Amendment and protecting scholastic journalistic for years to come,” said Morris, a junior at Conestoga.

In her application essay, Morris quoted John Milton: “‘Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.’ This liberty is the essence of the First Amendment, and the core of journalism. Through freedom of the press and speech, journalists have the power to better our democracy, an influence that few Americans ever have, and an influence that too few high school students fully understand. As a Scholastic Press Student Partner, I will raise awareness of the First Amendment and its relevance to both high school journalists and high school students in general.”

The program will employ social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to reach out to students and will act as a “quick response team” to immediately respond to threats of censorship.

For more information, visit: http://www.jeasprc.org/45words/

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spoke among top papers in country; Editors accept "Courage" awards; "Obligation to Report" best article in nation; "Carrying hope" best feature story

Current and former editors of The Spoke received more awards than any other high school newspaper in the nation at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association’s annual journalism convention in Washington, D.C.

The convention, which was held from Nov. 12-15, hosted more than 6,500 student journalists, making it one of the most heavily attended in recent history.

As a staff, The Spoke earned its first ever Pacemaker award — the highest commendation presented to a student publication by the NSPA. The award is for The Spoke’s work during the 2008-09 academic year.

Senior Seth Zweifler, current editor-in-chief, and Henry Rome, a freshman at Princeton University and former editor-in-chief, were both honored with the 2009 Courage in Student Journalism award — a level of recognition that is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious honors an individual high school reporter can receive. The award comes at the conclusion of a revision to the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s policy for student publications — one that Zweifler and Rome were active with during a five-month period.

“I think this award shows that students can fight back and don’t have to accept proposals that would censor their award-winning publication,” Rome said. “While the climate facing high school journalism nationwide is not always a positive one, we hope that our circumstances prove that students can produce real change.”

The award is co-sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the National Scholastic Press Association and Kent State University.

In addition, Zweifler and Rome were both finalists in four separate categories for the 2009 NSPA Story of the Year, the highest combined total for any pair of individuals in this year’s competition. Rome, who was a finalist in the news category (“Obligation to report,” June 2009) and the multimedia category (“On the streets”), went on to finish in first place in both categories. Rome also received the 2009 Brasler Prize, which named “Obligation to report” the best overall story in the nation.

This is the first time that any editor or staff member of The Spoke has received this level of recognition.

Zweifler, who was a finalist in the feature category (“Carrying hope,” March 2009) and diversity category (“Coming out in the classroom,” December 2008), went on to finish in first place in the feature category. He also received an honorable mention in the diversity category.

“I think we’re all a bit dumbfounded,” Zweifler said after the convention. “To be recognized for our efforts in such a large way before thousands and thousands of student journalists — that’s an incredible feeling.”

The 2009 NSPA Story of the Year competition includes six categories and sees an average of 3,000 individual entries per year.

“It’s like winning the World Series and having the Cy Young award winner and Major League Baseball batting champion on your team — and everybody is an All-Star player,” co-adviser Cyndi Hyatt said.

At the convention, co-adviser Susan Houseman was recognized as a 2009 Special Recognition journalism educator by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund.

“When I began advising [The Spoke] eight years ago, I never anticipated such a supreme recognition for both the paper as a whole and the individual writers, photographers and graphics artists,” Houseman said. “The students’ tenacity, coupled with their respect for the First Amendment freedoms, led them to this point, to this very special and deserved honor.”

The Spoke also placed third in the NSPA’s on-site Best of Show competition.

Capping off the impressive list of awards, Rome received an honorable mention in the 2009 NSPA Photo of the Year competition (news category). Junior Gabriela Epstein placed third in the 2009 NSPA Cartoon of the Year competition.