Eight things you can do to protect your newsroom, fight censorship and bolster your COVID-19 coverage

First and foremost, we hope you're safe and well. Your role in reporting on this global pandemic is vitally important, yet we're starting to see pushback and censorship of student journalists at this critical time. SPLC has created resources to help you protect your newsroom and understand key legal issues while reporting on the virus. 
See the full toolkit

Toolkit highlights:

1. Use this letter to affirm student media is an "essential service" if you encounter any problem with administrators respecting your unique role during this time of crisis. It explains the legal definition of "essential services" and the role of student news media. SPLC also released a statement explaining how student journalism is an "essential service" and calling on administrators' support.
See the letter
2. Get legal tips for covering the coronavirus. In our coverage guide, SPLC attorneys answer your top legal questions about covering the coronavirus. We also included relevant SPLC tipsheets, where to find background information and public domain photos for your stories, and advice for journalists from a number of organizations.
Read the guide
3. Get advice for managing and reporting remotely. We answered your top questions about working remotely while schools are closed and many communities are sheltering in place, including:
  • How do we keep our reporters safe during this outbreak while still doing our jobs and covering what needs to be covered?
  • How do I find story ideas now that beats are disrupted? 
  • How do I renegotiate with advertisers now that we’re online only?
  • How can we increase our online readers now that that’s the only way to reach them?
See the FAQs
4. Is your program under threat? If you've been told not to cover COVID-19, not to include anything about it in the yearbook, been censored in any way or had your budget cut, here's what you can do:
My program is under threat
5. Check out these online teaching tools for advisers. Quizzes, presentations and virtual speakers can help you make the most of online classes.
See teaching tools
6. Read student coverage of the coronavirus. Student journalists are doing important work creating helpful maps and graphics, breaking stories about how their peers are affected, and dispelling rumors and misinformation.
Read student coverage
7. Learn how government transparency is suffering during this pandemicOpen meetings and records shouldn't become closed to the public during this outbreak, but the reality on the ground is messy. We put a reporter on it.
Read more about Sunshine Laws
8. Contact SPLC's legal hotline for additional, personalized help. SPLC is here to support you however we can.
Contact the legal hotline

Q: I am trying to figure out what my school is doing to cope with COVID-19. How can I access information about their plans?

A: Your school’s budget has been set since the beginning of the year. But by looking at new funding approvals, you can find out what your school or school district’s priorities are during the COVID-19 outbreak. You could potentially figure out how much money is being spent to facilitate remote learning or deep clean the campus. Pay attention to school board and local government meetings where decisions are made to approve additional funds earmarked for combatting COVID-19. Although each state has its own open records law, such funding information is usually open to the public. However, the specific details available can vary district-by-district, or even school-by-school. Note that private schools are likely not required to release the same information as public schools. Making an informal request to the appropriate school official for the relevant new funding changes should be sufficient. If your request is denied, you can invoke your state’s open records law by making a formal request in writing. The SPLC provides a free automated letter generator to help you create a formal public records request tailored to your state’s law.

See previous Ask SPLC answers

Support SPLC

High school and college news organizations can show their support for SPLC's legal hotline and other core services by becoming a member. Your individual donations help us defend the rights of student journalists and their advisers across the country. 
Copyright ©2020, All rights reserved. Student Press Law Center.

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