School newspaper flap

Another flap over the direction of a school newspaper has broken out in the region.

In West Fargo, Jeremy Murphy, the student newspaper and yearbook adviser, has been removed because of “how negative the paper was,” according to the Detroit Lakes Online Web site (reg. required).

Murphy, a former reporter, didn’t hold back in a letter he sent to the North Dakota Newspaper Association. “Administrators simply want an adviser who will restrain students from reporting on certain topics and I wasn’t willing to compromise their freedoms to that extent,” he said. “Although they didn’t have any specifics, I just think it was the fact that students covered both sides and that negative perspective really wasn’t well-received by district officials.”

The paper — The Packer — won top honors in this year’s Northern Interscholastic Press Association competition.

The paper’s Web site has a great sample of stories including the bankruptcy of a company that was handling the French class trip, the one-person race for student body president, and a student who’s moving to Kenya. Its opinion page features a column wondering why some of the teachers became teachers and one that questioned administrators for canceling a school trip because of blizzard fears.

School newspapers have always presented a dilemma for administrators who balance the teaching of a subject area — in this case, journalism — with the needs of their teachers.

In Faribault, Minn., the school district’s superintendent closed down the school newspaper last December because the school paper wouldn’t let him pre-read an article about a teacher. The students simply started publishing the paper online.

  • Hooray! Let’s censor our kids and tell them to keep their mouths shut before they ever learn to think for themselves!!

    *headdesk*

  • Something any journalist will tell you is that the PUBLISHER has press freedom, not the reporter or the editor. If the publisher doesn’t want something published, it doesn’t get published. It is up to the editor and reporter to sell the story to the publisher.

    School districts are in a strange position. They have privacy concerns and other statutory requirements to meet–as well as teaching journalism. That is why anything _published_ by the school should be reviewed by someone of authority to consider all the _publisher’s_ responsibilities.

    That explains why the administrator was right in Faribault.

    On the other hand, administrators can be stupid, too. This could explain the West Fargo case.

  • GregS

    “If the publisher doesn’t want something published, it doesn’t get published. It is up to the editor and reporter to sell the story to the publisher.”

    Well said, Bob.

    People often confuse freedom of the press for freedom of forum.

    While the adminstrator was right in Fairbault, so were the students, who took their opinions to a public forum where they and their parents were responsible for the consequences of what they published.

  • Logan Aimone

    It’s another case of school administrators trying to ensure that the school paper is free of controversial or offensive articles. Problem is, life is sometimes controversial and offensive. It’s easy to make a parallel between a commercial newspaper and its publisher having final veto over any story. Under that comparison the principal is publisher in the view of many including commenter Mr. Chapman above. Yet the principal, as a public school official, is also a government official.

    It’s more accurate to say the people of the West Fargo School District are the publishers? They entrust the publication to the principal, who hires the teacher/adviser, who teaches the students, who produce the paper within the boundaries of the law and responsible journalism.

    Students don’t have carte blanche to print whatever they want. No one has that. The Supreme Court set a boundary in 1969 of “material substantial disruption” and in 1988 further restricted that by establishing boundaries for legitimate educational concern. But any censorship has to be viewpoint neutral, which means a school authority figure can’t just spike a story that he or she doesn’t like — even if it makes the school look bad — as long as it doesn’t violate the boundaries listed above.

    It’s hard to know in this situation since the school officials didn’t offer much in the way of explanation.

  • Kathy Schrier

    When schools have a vibrant, inquiring student press, students learn about civic engagement and they learn that their voices matter. Clearly this is a school where that has been happening for quite some time.

    Some administrators simply do not value critical thinking; even when they claim that they want students to learn “to think.” So when that thinking actually leads to independent investigation and questioning of policies and authority, they throw up their hands and demand that students should report only “good” news. Oh, and naturally it’s the adviser’s fault.

    Blaming a teacher/adviser for the content of the school paper implies that advisers, rather than student editors choose the content. That is not the role of an adviser. The teacher/adviser makes sure students know the laws and codes of ethics that apply to journalism, and provides resources so students can make informed decisions on content.

    This appears to be a punitive move that has nothing to do with Murphy’s skill as a teacher and adviser. Hopefully there is union representation in place, since a grievance would be justified.

  • John Bowen

    Restraining students from reporting on topics like the ones listed certainly does not seem to fulfill the critical thinking, analysis or higher level skill missions schools like to say they teach.

    Almost every school has as part of its educational mission building better citizens and instilling in them respect for the democracy we live in.

    Removing the adviser and choking learning, not only of students but also citizens in the community, does not accomplish that basic educational mission.