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Originally published Friday, June 29, 2012 at 3:22 PM

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Seattle Central's student newshounds fight for the future of journalism

An ongoing fracas within the hallways of Seattle Central Community College tells us something important about today's journalism education and the direction future journalists may take.

Special to The Times

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AN ongoing fracas within the hallways of Seattle Central Community College tells us something important about today's journalism education and the direction future journalists may take as they as they become members of the media.

It's a question of which standards, either ethical or sensational, will be the foundation for the next generation of writers and editors. Here's the issue in a nutshell:

Students of Seattle Central have for three years produced a monthly publication filled with news, opinion, art and community discussion. Central Circuit was named and created by students who saw no news publication on campus. They filled those empty news racks. After 16 consecutive issues, Central Circuit offers a wide spectrum of voices, of the students and by the students.

Central Circuit has had more than a hundred student contributors, artists and Web managers. A recent issue rose to 40 pages by including the essays and artwork created by the college's Women's Studies Program. Their publication ceased distribution but was reintroduced by Central Circuit student editors.

Central Circuit constantly draws student contributors from across a diversified campus. It is not approved or rejected by the college administration — in fact, the administration never sees an issue before publication.

Normally, student publications have little impact outside their campus settings. But arrival of The New City Collegian on campus starkly helps us understand the differences between ethical journalism and mock-sensational reporting. Ethical journalism, it turns out, is much harder to do than blowing your nose and calling it a story.

The student editors of Central Circuit have been the subject of statements that are simply untrue. One was the assertion on campus that everything written by Circuit staff members is subject to college review. That's flatly untrue. So is the ludicrous idea that a task force exists at Central to limit free speech. That statement on the pages of The Seattle Times ["An act of journalistic defiance," Opinion, June 16] requires a level of belief only the most conspiratorial could accept.

Published through a grant from a cupcake company, The New City Collegian is not unique, as its sponsor maintains, but is simply part of the wider array of student publications in the Northwest.

If the New City Collegian is unique, that's because it has departed from ethical journalism and emerged as mundane and vulgar. But once it is published, once it reaches the busy corridors of Seattle Central, it becomes protected speech under the roof of the college. I add my voice that the Collegian be unhindered in publishing future issues. Eventually, it will be rationally judged by the students instead of self-promoted like a cupcake.

An essential choice remains for aspiring media professionals on Seattle Central's campus. It's not hard to see the differences between journalism based on an ethical standard and media that are not. Two of the principles established by the Society of Professional Journalists should be remembered by students, faculty and the administration at Seattle Central. Among those principles are: to find the news and report it, and minimize harm.

Students are the treasure of Seattle Central Community College. They seek and find the news honestly. Most are not mendacious unless they are taught to be. The students can sort the difference between ethical and sensational journalism. They did before and will do so again.

James F. Vesely, former editorial page editor of The Seattle Times, has been adviser to student websites and publications at Seattle Central Community College since 2009. He can be reached at jvesely@sccd.ctc.edu.

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