LAW & ETHICS
Photos of an interview with Dr. Mike Fulton, Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent (photo by Annakate Dilks).

The articles I've written and reporting I've worked on followed strict processes that I continuously checked to establish that they kept with all pertinent laws and ethical journalistic conduct. From document-seeking to giving sources in question ample time to respond for comment, I've worked to hold myself and my colleagues to the highest standards possible.

On this page, you'll find examples of the ways in which I ethically worked through hurdles and sensitive points in my time with The Harbinger.

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I was featured in this Student Press Law Center article after working with the Shawne Mission School District's Board of Education to omit proposed policy language that would have potentially allowed journalistic censorship over student-run newspapers in Shawnee Mission schools. 

After finding out about the language at the NSPA Gloria Shields Workshop, I slipped out of my class and called four members of the board I was familiar with to find out more about the language. The language included that "the District/school may limit controversial subjects" if they're "sponsoring the speech," under conditions that the content would "substantially disrupt the ability of the District/school to perform its educational mission." The vague conditions were concerning — so I sought help from individuals affiliated with the NSPA and local newspapers.

 

Before the next scheduled board meeting, I coordinated with two other Shawnee Mission newspaper Editors-in-Chief to prepare a three-pronged speech plan during the public comment section of the meeting — in which citizens can directly voice their concerns with short speeches. After speaking, I continued talks with board members and family members of a board member to find a solution. 

Less than a month later, the district revised its language. The experience taught me the importance of coming to the table when faced with an issue, not just simply acknowledging it.

Start the recorded board meeting at 30:35 to watch my speech encouraging SMSD board members to revise language that would have allowed for potential censorship of Shawnee Mission newspapers. 

"R(Evolve)"
April 29, 2019

"R(Evolve)" sought out to analyze the ways in which the Shawnee Mission School District was taking action to alleviate longstanding problems within their special education department. 

It's a sensitive process to write an article addressing potentially illegal conduct that your newspaper's residential school district participated in. So even after over a dozen interviews with families claiming that the district stepped across legal lines in the past, I covered the ways in which the district sought to improve the program.

To best understand it, I emailed 14 officials in the district for comment on the story. When no response came, I scheduled calls. It took six days for a final response, but once one came, the district's chief communications officer set up an interview at the SMSD Center for Academic Achievement, where I interviewed both that official and the district's head of special education. 

The story, as a result, was able to cover the pertinent past issues without directly focusing on them — and did not dip into any accusations of illegal conduct. 

Read the packaged cover story below, and read the updated online version here. 

This story also offered the additional hurdle of addressing systemic issues within your student publication's school of residence. To best protect the sources of students that commented on the lackluster systems that were in place, their names and situations were granted anonymity. I handled the story with the knowledge that students in the special education programs included in the story would, if their names were found, likely be removed or treated differently within the program. 

I interviewed the students at times when their identity would not be threatened and kept any chatter of the story to a minimum prior to its release. The experience taught me the importance of telling stories that protect the important sources who bolster those stories — and to always write not with the intention to negatively target individuals or programs, but to focus on problems and potential solutions that people face every day without scapegoating. 

Hundreds attend board meeting in support of teacher pay increase
November 13, 2019

This was the first story published from my reporting on the SMSD's teacher contract negotiations regarding their desire for increased pay and lower teaching hours over the last year. As hundreds packed the district board room with 20 speakers during the public comment section of a November board meeting, it was important to give voice and perspective from both parties — the teachers and speakers advocating on their behalf, and the SMSD. 

I made sure to seek comment from both supportive teachers and district representatives to fully understand the situation and introduce it. 

Read the story as published below.
"AL(ARMED)"
September 2, 2019

"AL(ARMED)" dealt directly with gun laws and proposed legislation in all three of its sections. Accordingly, I needed perspective and information from lawmakers, officers and education officials to adequately understand the environment that led to dozens of deaths due to gun violence on the first weekend of August.  

I reached out to contacts I'd built rapport with to schedule interviews with lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) and attended events to find opportunities to speak with state legislators like KS Rep. Jerry Stogsdill. 

Based on the contents of those interviews, I checked the validity of their claims that gun violence legislation was being drastically mishandled and that instances of full committee attendance on such issues were few and far between. After those facts were checked and cross-referenced with documents and official legislative pages, I used them to build the second section of the article, which covered what the state and federal legislative was doing to mitigate gun violence.

Read the online interactive package including "AL(ARMED)" and a pertinent photo gallery below.

For other sections of the story, the same method of fact-checking was used. When students or youth leaders in gun violence mitigation groups fielded accusations of mishandling by legislators or officials, the claims were met with either evidence to provide context or a contrary argument from the official themself.

The above documents were central bills that I referenced throughout "AL(ARMED)."

To cover what the SMSD was doing in its efforts to keep schools safe from gun violence, an understanding of what was legally required versus what extra steps the district planned to take was required. I spoke with officials in law enforcement with local departments and officials in the SMSD and drew the differences. 

Below, you'll find "AL(ARMED)" as it appeared in print on pages 15-17.

"SHUTTING DOWN"
January 28, 2019

This story sought to measure the extent to which Kansas City was impacted by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. We sent the story into the printers on Thursday, Jan. 4 with information regarding the ambiguity of when the shutdown would end. 

But after President Donald Trump announced the end of the shutdown over the weekend, the story needed to be updated — so I wrote an alternate version that addressed the end of the shutdown and promoted it on Twitter. The tweet noted that the printed version was updated as of Jan. 28 and to find the newest information at the online source. 

Below are both the article as printed (left) and the updated online version (right).

Considering the article was updated upon its digital publishing, I included an editor's note for the reader that explained the situation and the differences between the print and online articles. This ensured that the changing of the article's contents wouldn't go unseen to the reader — The Harbinger upholds the responsibility to make sure readers knew about any alterations.

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©2019 by Benjamin A. Henschel.