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contributing editor: Magazine columnist who works under contract and not as an employee of the magazine. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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5 reasons to publish student names and photos

All of us are concerned about protecting young people from predators. But there's simply no connection between practicing sound, ethical journalism – online or digital – and endangering youth. Not correctly identifying story subjects can actually do more harm than good. Consider:

  1. Schools have no grounds for concern that such things as publishing names and faces cause liability risks. Of course no one in doing a news story publishes a Social Security number or other personal data. And students should learn not to do this anyway on their personal social media sites as part of their media literacy and Internet training. Names and faces are available to the community outside the school in the library, the yearbook, commercial news coverage and many other places.
  2. If student media can't use names or photos, do other sites tied to the school — say a PTA newsletter or school website — have the same restrictions? Not printing names means that news of achievement concerning students, teachers or administrators could be eliminated as well. That includes scholarships, honor roll, winning touchdown passes and national awards.
  3. There is no evidence to suggest online publications pose any more of a danger than their print-based counterparts. Nothing in the Communications Decency Act requires schools to prohibit the publication of student names or photos in an online student publication. Where newsworthy information — including student names and photos — is lawfully obtained and accurately reported, it is not an invasion of privacy to post it online.
  4. Nor is it a violation of the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), also known as the Buckley Amendment. The Department of Education has made clear that news reported by students in a student newspaper is not equivalent to educational records being released by the school itself. News organizations report news. The very idea of news without names or other basic identifying information strikes at the core of journalistic integrity.
  5. Such practice is also legally risky. A policy that requires news subjects be incompletely identified is poised for trouble. Reporting, for example, that an unnamed tennis player was kicked off the team for illegal drinking could subject the student newspaper to a libel lawsuit by the team's nine other players who were not drinking.

Adapted from The Principal's Guide to Scholastic Journalism, by the Quill and Scroll Society.