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A free student press returns to Vermont

May 26, 2017
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Gov. Phil Scott took part in a ceremonial bill-signing with aspiring writers and journalists from Vermont’s public schools. The new law protects students in the state’s public schools and colleges from censorship by school officials.

A truly free student press returned to Vermont public schools this week.

Gov. Phil Scott signed an education bill that will prevent principals, superintendents and other school officials from censoring school newspapers for trivial reasons.

Up till now, school officials could prevent student journalists from writing about anything that they deemed inappropriate. School officials have used this power to prevent publication of stories about everything from teen pregnancy to acts of racism.

Now, Vermont stands as the 11th state to enact a New Voices law, aimed to empower students to use their voices as journalists.

Students still face more restraints than professional journalists—stories that would substantially disrupt a school environment are still off limits—but now students can write stories about controversial topics without worrying about them being censored merely because the story are controversial.

Scott met with several aspiring journalists Thursday in Burlington for a ceremonial signing of the law.

Alexandre Silberman, one of two co-editors of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, said he appreciates the steps that lawmakers took this year to protect student journalists.

“I’m so glad to be graduating high school knowing that the student journalists who follow in my footsteps will have an environment free of censorship and prior review,” Silberman said. “This New Voices law affirms the importance of a free student press and will effectively protect it.”

Vermont Sen. Jeanette White, a Windham County Democrat, sponsored the bill that grew into the New Voices law.

White and Nancy Olson, director of Vermont’s branch of the Journalism Education Association, had worked to introduce this kind of bill in previous years. This time, she worked with the Student Press Law Center and the national New Voices campaign.

You can read more about the new law at SPLC.org.

How a Vermont Cynic grad landed at The Washington Post before her 23rd birthday

May 18, 2017

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Former Vermont Cynic layout editor Aviva Loeb graduated from the University of Vermont in December 2015 and immediately scored a job designing pages for the Arizona Republic. Fourteen months later, she moved on to The Washington Post, adding her name to an employee roster emblazoned with names like Ben Bradlee, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Not bad for a 22-year-old from Burlington, Vermont.

Such accomplisments don’t happen without work—or even with one kind of work. A student editor might design some amazing pages, but it takes more than an impressive clip book to get to the Post.

I asked Aviva a few questions about how to land that “dream job” …


How did you prepare for your career while still at UVM?

I was the layout editor of the Cynic from 2012 to 2014. From early on, I was getting experience with a lot of things I deal with in the real world,  like working on a deadline, conceptualizing art for stories, and working with many different personalities. I think learning how to problem-solve and work through conflicts in a newsroom was one of the most important things the Cynic taught me. I also learned a ton of technical skills for working with Adobe Creative Suite to create the Cynic layouts.

I supplemented the Cynic work by doing practicums, where the Cynic’s adviser, Chris Evans, and I worked through different areas that I wanted to learn more about, like leadership strategies. We also worked through Tim Harrower’s News Designers Handbook from cover to cover, doing almost every exercise in the book.

I did four internships while at UVM, including the Jerusalem Post and San Diego Magazine, and I took a magazine design class at the Rhode Island School of Design during the summer before my sophomore year. The other important thing I did was get involved in the Society for News Design. I applied for travel grants and scholarships, which helped me gain exposure to the industry and fund my unpaid internships.

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Aviva designed this “Milk” icon for the Post’s Kindle app.

How did you wind up at the Washington Post so soon after graduation? What was your path?

Working at the Post has been my dream for as long as being a visual journalist has been my dream. I’m honestly still shocked it happened as quickly as it did. I’ve been really fortunate in that, through SND, I got to know a lot of the designers at the Post while I was a student. This included Greg Manifold, the design director, who was one of my mentors as a student, critiquing my work on several occasions, and he let me shadow him and check out the newsroom. When I shadowed him I got to sit with my now boss, Amy King, for about an hour and learn about what her team, Emerging News Products, was doing. That was the first time I ever really thought about careers in digital, because I was so inspired by the work that they were doing. I always kept in touch with the people at the Post and tried to see them and talk to them at SND and other industry events, or whenever I was in DC.

Career-wise, before the Post I went out to Phoenix and worked in the Gannett Phoenix Design Studio for about 14 months. I vividly remember sitting in Chris’ office in November of 2015 and weighing my job offers. Chris asked me where I wanted to be in five years, and when I said, The Washington Post, he advised me to go out to Phoenix.
I worked on the Arizona Republic, and even though I worked in a Design Studio—a place where we designed pages for newspapers all across the country—I worked face-to-face with editors, which I really enjoyed. I designed for the daily print paper, focusing on A1 and Sunday sections, as well as creating images for social media.
I had really great managers and got to work with a bunch of incredibly smart designers who taught me a ton of stuff I didn’t learn in school. It was also really great to be able to watch how other designers think and problem-solve. The studio director, Tracy Collins, runs a really fabulous newsletter every week and showcases the best work from the studio and teaches a different lesson every week, so I got exposed to a lot. It changed my method a little bit. And I was able to go from the mentality of “I need to figure this out on my own and teach myself” to “I’m sitting next to someone who knows how to do this and can help me.”
I also got really involved with the Society for News Design as a volunteer, first as the deputy membership director and then as the website editor and now as the membership director. Being so involved has helped me stay on top of everything happening in the industry.

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Aviva designed this image for the Post’s national app

What’s the best thing about your job? The toughest thing?

Well, I’m really just getting started at the Post, but one of my favorite things is that no two days look the same. One day there was breaking news that needed to be added to the Snapchat story, and recently I created a social image for a story about a woman who runs a workshop where people get naked and talk about body image.  I also love that working for the emerging news products team means that what my job description is right now might not be what it is in five years, or even a year, just because of how fast the way we read stories is changing.
The most challenging thing so far has been adjusting from a daily paper to a non-stop form of news. On the Republic, I would conceptualize and illustrate maybe two stories a day, and now I’m doing about five to 10 in a shift. Also in print there’s a lot of downtime in the middle of a shift when you’re waiting for editors, and the Post puts out so much digital content that you go non-stop all day. Which I love.
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Aviva’s Samantha Bee image is for a new product, launching soon, called The Lily.

From your perspective, where is journalism heading? Is there hope for aspiring journalists?
It’s hard to predict. Things are changing so rapidly. Some of the platforms I design for didn’t exist when I started college. I think technology will play a huge roll in the future of journalism. There is definitely a need for journalists right now. There are stories that need to be told. What I think will set apart successful journalists in the coming years is the ability to adapt quickly to change, take big risks, and the motivation to teach themselves new skills.
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Like the “Milk” icon above, Aviva designed this image for the Post’s Kindle app.

What’s the one piece of advice that you would give UVM students who want to go into media careers?

I think what students often forget is that it’s OK to advocate for yourself and for your career. Put yourself out there. Ask professionals to look at your work. Ask them for advice. Ask if you can shadow them. Apply for internships you don’t think you’re qualified for.

One thing that makes UVM and its student journalists special is their drive to succeed in this field even without a structured program. And that’s something that I’ve found professionals notice and really appreciate.

One other amazing tip from this Cynic-grad turned-Post staffer: The Washington Post gives free digital subscriptions to students and educators with .edu emails. So sign up!

Vermont students expect free-speech win

May 12, 2017
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High school student editors testified before the Vermont House of Representatives judiciary committee in April. Clockwise from upper-left, they were Jenna Majeski of Woodstock Union High School, Robbie Maher of Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans and Jake Bucci of Burlington High School.

Vermont high school students could find their free-speech rights restored by summertime.

Both the Vermont Senate and House of Representatives last week voted to create a free-speech law designed to protect students from censorship when working as part of school-sponsored student media programs in Vermont’s public colleges and K-12 schools.

The proposed legislation has been forwarded to Gov. Phil Scott.

University of Vermont student editor Kelsey Neubauer, who in January testified in support of the legislation, said the new law would help Vermont’s high school students better engage in civic discourse. Current law allows school administrators to censor student newspapers and other forms of media for the most trivial of reasons, including incorrect grammar in a news story. The law, established in 1988, rolled back protections originally given to students in the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, which established that students’ free-speech rights should not end at the schoolhouse gate.

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Kelsey Neubauer, Vermont Cynic editor-in-chief

The new Vermont legislation is “a step toward instilling the importance of the press in the next generation of journalists,” said Neubauer, the 2016-2017 editor-in-chief of the UVM student newspaper The Vermont Cynic. “The protections given to student press through this law will help so many journalists do their job to serve their communities through truth and will empower them to do so on a larger scale later in life.

“It was so exciting to be a part of this process and such an honor to have seen such an important piece of legislation come to life. The most incredible part of the process was hearing the stories of Vermont high school journalists. I was in complete awe.”

High school editors from across the state traveled to the state capital of Montpelier to press lawmakers to approve the bill, which has been dubbed “New Voices” legislation because it’s intended to protect young Vermonters making their voices heard for the first time. The bill is just one of many New Voices efforts across the nation being championed by students, educators and professional journalists.

Among those Vermont students to testify were student editors Jenna Majeski of Woodstock Union High School, Robbie Maher of Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans; and Alexandre Silberman and Jake Bucci of Burlington High School.

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Jake Bucci, The Register co-editor, Burlington High School

Vermont lawmakers’ overwhelmingly positive response to the students’ testimony “shows that student journalists are finally being respected and trusted,” Bucci said.

Bucci and Silberman, co-editors of Burlington High’s award-winning newspaper, The Register, said that they looked forward to having legal protections to report responsibly about issues of concern to their fellow students. In the past, administrators have refused to let them publish stories that the administrators felt might upset some people.

“The New Voices law is important because it clearly defines what administration can and can’t do,” Bucci said, “and protects student journalists from censorship.”

Among the most visible advocates for the New Voices bill was veteran journalist Mike Donoghue, who serves as executive director of the Vermont Press Association and vice president of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

“This was really a team effort by students, teachers, advisers, professional journalists and just people interested in the First Amendment,” Donoghue said. “New Voices Vermont worked hard to try to ensure that high school and college students, along with their media advisers, will have First Amendment protections moving  forward.

“It was wonderful to see the students testify at the statehouse and to be actively engaged with legislators over First Amendment questions.  The legislators took the students just as serious as if they were dealing with experienced witnesses testifying.  These students are the future professional journalists that the public will depend on for finding the truth when it comes to reporting news in the future.”

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Mike Donoghue, Vermont Press Association executive director

Donoghue thanked the senators who sponsored the legislation—Jeanette White and Becca Balint of Windham County and Philip Baruth of Chittenden County—as well as all other legislators who took time to consider the bill.

New Voices also had the support of the Journalism Education Association, the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., the American Society of News Editors, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and members of the Vermont Press Association, which represents the interests of the 11 daily and dozens of non-daily printed newspapers circulating in the state.

Donoghue said that he expects the bill to become law.

“We do expect Gov. Phil Scott will sign this important legislation,” he said. “This is a critical time that students are engaged in current events and that they are able to report on issues of public importance and concern.  Student journalists need to know how to ask the tough questions of their own teachers, principals, school superintendents and even school board members when it comes to news.

“These students are the future professional journalists that the public will depend on for finding the truth when it comes to reporting news.”

For updates, follow the New Voices Vermont Facebook page.


Full disclosure: The author provided advice during the drafting of the New Voices legislation in Vermont, testified in favor of the bill three times and serves as a liaison to the national New Voices campaign. Bias toward the subject of this story? Yes, I have it.

A UVM journalism program? It just might happen.

April 4, 2017

Probably I’ll need to change the tagline to this blog, which came into existence a decade ago with the subtitle:

the UVM J-blog: when you realize that the University of Vermont has no journalism program

As local alt-weekly Seven Days reports in its most recent issue, the University of Vermont is indeed moving toward creating a journalism major. A committee began meeting last summer and, though we didn’t make any public announcement about the effort, members of UVM’s media organizations have been providing advice from the beginning. So have alumni, who we brought together into a Listserv to provide advice for an undertaking that we hope will improve the academic experience for UVM students who say they want a journalism major—and there appear to be a lot of them. As adviser to The Vermont Cynic, I regularly hear from students who want to enter the journalism field and want UVM to offer a program—forward-thinking and multimedia—to meet their needs.

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Seven Days reports in its most recent issue about UVM’s plans to design a journalism major.

For those of you who know the Cynic well, there’s been one overriding sentiment: Make it good, but make sure the Cynic stays independent. I’ve heard this from both students and alumni in commentary spiked with a tinge of anxiety. For many Cynics, the best part of the UVM journalism experience has been the ability to chart their own course, to design a student-run, working newsroom without university oversight.

There’s no reason for that to change. Here’s how I explained it to Seven Days:
The university currently offers academic credits to students who work on the Cynic and on-campus TV and radio stations. “We’ll continue to give students space to develop their skills in real-world situations — a working newsroom, TV station or radio station — where students set the agenda,” Evans said. “The only difference would be that many students in the journalism major might have more formal training before they walk into student media offices.”
For UVM student media, then, any changes should be supplementary rather than revolutionary. For Cynic members and alumni, in particular, there’s a certain If it ain’t broke quality to the UVM journalism experience, but giving budding journalists more educational opportunities would certainly have its upsides.
The program might be of even greater value to The Cynic’s sibling, UVMtv, which produces news shows but doesn’t have the Cynic’s established news-gathering infrastructure. A new journalism program would, by necessity (and all that is journalistically holy in the modern media age) focus heavily on multimedia. While video efforts most certainly would include the mini-doc style of videos done so well by the New York Times video team and others, traditional TV news formats should benefit as well.
We’re early enough in the process of designing this major for us to take new perspectives into account: to get things right. I’d encourage anyone who cares about this kind of thing to speak up. Leave a comment on this story or, even better, contact your favorite UVM power-broker. Tell them what you want to see. Help UVM get it right.

UVM, public discourse and Habermas

February 24, 2017

One of the things I love about advising student media at the University of Vermont—and about being part of the wider media world—is the opportunity to speak to some of the most fascinating experts in the field.

I recently called upon some of these media experts to help me with a podcast experiment in which I sought to examine some of the most important—and troubling—changes to public discourse in the modern electronic era.

The piece has an academic slant—as projects at universities sometimes do—in that it concerns concepts about public discourse explored by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who in the 1960s wrote about the emergence of a “public sphere,” where commoners like you and me could come together to debate the issues of the day and, in the process, advance the cause of democracy.

I’m posting the podcast to the UVM media blog because one major part of the podcast involves an extended interview with Natalie DiBlasio, a 2012 editor-in-chief of The Vermont Cynic and, today, head of social media at WIRED. We also hear from UVM sociology professor Tom Streeter and Anne Galloway, founder and publisher of the Vermont investigative news source VTDigger.org, so the Vermont media connection is strong.

I invite you to listen to the whole thing or—if you’re not actually on a road trip in your car—encourage you to dive in to listen to the sources who you’re most eager to hear. The minute-by-minute breakdown below can help you do that.

Thanks, in advance, for listening.


Your chapter guide:

  • 8:24 — Tom Streeter, UVM sociology professor
  • 12:52 — Natalie DiBlasio, head of social media at WIRED and former editor-in-chief of The Vermont Cynic
  • 35:50 — David Niose, an activist who has served as president of two Washington-based national organizations, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America
  • 48:14 —Pam Platt, lifelong journalist and, until recently, editorial director at The Louisville Courier-Journal
  • 1:10:19 — Anne Galloway, founder and publisher of investigative journalism source VTDigger.org
  • 1:17:52 — A quick callback from Tom Streeter

Vermont student journalists seek to bolster press freedoms

January 24, 2017
Jake Bucci, co-editor of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, testifies Jan. 17, 2017, before the Vermont Senate education committee about the New Voices bill.

Jake Bucci, co-editor of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, testifies Jan. 17, 2017, before the Vermont Senate education committee about the New Voices bill.

Student journalists took a major step this month toward securing greater First Amendment protection for themselves and their peers in Vermont.

Representatives from the University of Vermont and nearby Burlington High School testified before the Vermont Senate’s education committee in support of Senate bill S.18, which would protect responsible journalism from prior review and censorship in high schools and colleges.

Vermont student journalists Alexandre Silberman and Jake Bucci of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, and Kelsey Neubauer of the University of Vermont newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, traveled to Montpelier to testify before the Vermont Senate education committee.

Vermont student journalists Alexandre Silberman and Jake Bucci of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, and Kelsey Neubauer of the University of Vermont newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, traveled to Montpelier to testify before the Vermont Senate education committee.

The bill represents a state-level effort to address provisions of the 1988 Supreme Court decision Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which allows principals to prevent high school students from publishing anything that they consider, in their personal judgment, to be improper for a high school publication. For example, if students produce a newspaper with what the principal considers to be too many grammatical errors, the school can censor it. Later court rulings expanded those restrictions to college newspapers, although only in certain Midwestern states.

The senate bill—one of about 20 state-level bills and laws branded together as the “New Voices” campaign—would allow both high school and college students to print their own words as long as the language did not cause a substantial disruption to the school or break the law. Offenses like libel and invasion of privacy would still be illegal.

The bill would return students to a standard set by the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the court ruled that students do not lose their First Amendment rights merely because they step into a school.

The Vermont effort has gained support from students, journalists, educators and free-speech advocates from across the state, region and country. Supporters come from the Vermont Press Association, the Vermont Journalism Education Association, the Student Press Law Center, the New England First Amendment Coalition, the leadership of the University of Vermont’s Student Government Association and elsewhere.

This bill “allows educators to teach students how to be aggressive, responsible journalists while protecting those students and their advisers from unreasonable discipline,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “While focused on student expression, this legislation will ultimately strengthen professional newsrooms throughout the state.

“It will help create an educational environment where the practice of journalism can be better taught and the next generation of Vermont’s watchdogs more easily groomed.”

Vermont Cynic Editor-in-Chief Kelsey Neubauer and co-editors Jake Bucci and Alexandre Silberman of the Burlington High School newspaper, The Register, testified at Tuesday’s hearing. They said that they will continue to advocate for the bill.

Committee members are in the process of examining similar laws in other states to see how the Vermont bill compares. They said that they want to make sure that they balance student press freedoms with reasonable protections for all high school students.

UPDATE: Ken Page, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, testified before the education committee today. He released a statement showing substantial support for the bill before speaking. Also testifying were Peter Teachout, professor at Vermont Law School, and Jeff Fannon, executive director of the Vermont National Education Association.

See more at VTDigger.org.

Voice of America tackles threats to student press freedom

January 5, 2017

 

Voice of America this week published a new piece about the plight of college newspapers and other student-run news organizations, a topic that’s been in the press quite a bit in the past year.

The VOA story stems from a report that I helped write as chairman of the First Amendment Advocacy Program of College Media Association: a role separate from my work as the UVM student media adviser. Other contributors to the report include writers and editors at the American Association of University Professors, the Student Press Law Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

It’s hard to say whether the number of cases of censorship by college officials is increasing, but, in the modern media environment, our awareness of threats to students’ free expression is.

College officials sometimes demand to see stories before they go to print or cut funding entirely if student journalists write articles that offend their sensibilities. This happens with stories ranging from the obviously vital—investigations into the actions of misbehaving administrators, say—to the seemingly trivial, such as the best places to hook up on campus. Student government organizations sometimes punish the press, too.

In many cases, perpetrators of this censorship claim other motives for their actions and say that censorship isn’t taking place at all. They might say that they want to shutter a newsroom because of concerns about a newspaper’s finances or that the removal of the newspaper’s adviser is a result of larger university cutbacks. Sometimes they say that an adviser has been removed from her position for other work-related reasons that they can’t discuss because of privacy rules around personnel issues. Sometimes, definitely, censorship has nothing to do with it, but our research shows that, too often, it does.

We’re blessed at the University of Vermont, where college officials value the student press in a way that not every higher ed administrator does. If The Vermont Cynic publishes something that offends a reader, then UVM officials point that reader to the student editors. This is so automatic that, even as the newspaper’s adviser, I usually don’t hear about these complaints until well after students have responded to the offended party, whether it be a local business owner or government official.

Not every college media organization is so fortunate. Our hope is that the report might shine a light on these problems and provide guidance for how to move forward.