Monday, February 07, 2005

On The Mark -- Censorship in High School Newspapers

When I was a senior in high school the Misanthrope and I were reporters on our school newspaper. In one issue I had written a first-hand account describing the dedication of student athletes to their sports, focusing on football. I interviewed a player and used him as my source. It was a harmless piece and focused on how much sacrifice is required (such as being at the practice field at 6 every morning). For some reason it really hit a nerve and I was called onto the carpet. I had to meet with the head football coach and explain my reasoning, and the school principal was very upset. They were not happy when I refused to apologize and stated that I thought they were overreacting. In the meantime, four football players wrote a rather nasty letter to the editor with the expected conclusion (he's not a football player so how could he have a clue?). Everyone on the newspaper staff couldn't figure out what had ticked them off. To this day I still don't know.

Anyway, in the next issue, we printed their letter, my reply, and a reprint of my original column (in a "you decide reader" layout). But we took it a little further. We also included an editorial cartoon depicting the four players sitting on a locker room bench behind the head coach who was writing the letter-to-the-editor on a blackboard. The cartoon caption read "wait a minute, coach, you're going too fast." In the same newspaper issue we had another editorial cartoon that depicted a skeleton in cobwebs sitting in a chair outside a counselor's office; the caption read, "Mr. X, your next appointment is waiting for you." This was to show the principal that he had much more important things to worry about (and this cartoon was accurate).

All hell broke loose and our budget was taken away so that we couldn't publish any more issues that year. So the newspaper staff simply went out and washed cars and did whatever was necessary to print the newspaper (it also helped that our journalism teacher was out on extended leave and we had a clueless substitute for several months).

So, to Ann Long, the high school senior who was placed on leave for an article she wrote for her high school newspaper about two bi-sexual students and a gay student (all who had given her consent, including their parents, she says), there are many former high school journalists standing up for you and, most important, to the 1st Amendment.


Chandira said...

People never like to see their own shortcomings in print..
Like the monkey throwing a rock at the mirror, you know?
We're still primates.

B2 said...

I, too, was a high school newspaperman (maybe we should change the name of our blog to "Former High School Reporters Seeking to Relive Past Glory"? Maybe not.). I never had to deal with censorship, and for that I am grateful. I learned that the press had a responsibility to report what was happening to people who wouldn't otherwise know about it -- our job was to make information known, even if it rankled some complacent folks. (Some more Woodward & Bernstein, anyone?)

Ms. Long, continue to fight the good fight.