The story in the Herriman High School Telegraph needed an editor. It didn’t need a censor.
It galls journalists, and should be just as upsetting to citizens and taxpayers, when we see yet another example of how poorly some schools understand the role of a free press in our civilization and how little concern some educators show toward their responsibility to train the next generation of journalists.
Too often, the way schools handle a questionable or controversial article in a student-run, school-owned publication is analogous to a math teacher who can’t do long division or a basketball coach who thinks the pick and roll is too complicated.
Case in point: Recently, the student journalists at the Herriman Telegraph researched, wrote and, for a moment there, published a story that set out to explain why one of the school’s history teachers seemed to have disappeared without warning or explanation.
Sometimes these things are unremarkable. We live in a mobile society. People move. Often, it’s none of anybody else’s business.
But the newspaper’s editors, quite rightly, were concerned that there seemed to be bits and pieces of an explanation offered to some student leaders and others, while the truth was generally being withheld from the school and community — students, parents and taxpayers — as a whole.
So they asked around, assembled what they could, often from people who didn’t want to speak on the record, and used the open government tools that are available to all citizens to do what they could to back up the rumors with documentary facts.
And the students concluded — quite reasonably, given what they were able to assemble in the face of stonewalling administrators — that the missing male teacher had been fired for, it certainly seemed, having some kind of inappropriate communications with a female student. And, just like Katharine Graham in “The Post,” they published.
Because that’s what newspapers do.
Until, that is, the school administration pulled the story from the online version of the Telegraph and took away the student journalists’ access to that website.
So the students went and set up their own website, the Herriman High Telegram. With the blocked story and links to the documentary evidence that story was drawn from.
Because that’s what journalists do.
The administration’s behavior has been totally unwarranted.
If the story was inaccurate, the principal or superintendent or someone in the know should have explained to the student journalists — on the record — what had really happened and why rumors of inappropriate behavior were not true. Hiding behind a law that protects the privacy of students — not of teachers — was, as the Telegraph/Telegram editors noted, not a good answer.
If the story is accurate, it should have stood.
Yes, student newspapers are different. They are not independent of the government agency — the school — that owns them. School principals do serve in a role approximating that of a publisher.
But schools and principals are also the government. And any journalist, at any level, who is taught that his or her role is to cave in the face of government opposition is not learning to be a journalist at all.