Another student newspaper at a high school in Arkansas has gone sideways with the school's administration. And the administration of Har-Ber High School in Springdale apparently doesn't like sideways. Reports out of various other media outlets, professional ones, say the Har-Ber Herald was suspended earlier this week.
Our first reaction? To pump our fists a bit and high-five the nearest copy editor. The kids are all right. As long as they spell "all right" as two words. It does an inky wretch's heart good to know that another generation of journalists is coming up right, questioning authority, uncovering good stories--and has the gall and gumption to print them. Even if it afflicts the comfortable. The writers at Har-Ber High already have a journalist's moxie, which means they are journalist material. Bravo!
According to reports, the Har-Ber Herald recently ran a piece on football players. More precisely, the transfer of several to a rival school. Seems some players admitted to the paper that they didn't transfer for strictly academic reasons, and football played a part. Which is a no-no. The paper also wrote an unsigned editorial that criticized the practice and suggested the state's sports association look into it.
There is so much to like here. Especially that part about unsigned editorials speaking as the voice of the paper. It's a long tradition going back generations. And only recently has it been questioned by oh-so-modern corporate editorialists who are more corporate than editorialist. We love that the kids get it.
Taking on football? And the Arkansas Activities Association? Why not just take on hunting and fishing and pickups and mom's Sunday dinner? These student journalists at Har-Ber High don't aim low, do they? Somebody get them a scholarship.
Before we go too much further in our praise of these young Bob Woodwards and William Allen Whites, somebody is sure to notice that we haven't always taken the side(s) of young journalists in school when going against the administration. See, for example, the decision a few years ago at Mills High in Little Rock, when the principal pulled the paper from the halls.
But, and there's always a but, the circumstances at Mills were different: The student paper there had printed a story about gangs and featured a photograph of a kid wearing certain gang colors. The principal at the time said he had no intention of allowing something that would get a student of his "jumped" on campus. And if a high school principal has a more important job than educating his charges, it might be to keep them safe.
But in Har-Ber ... .
The administration there isn't talking much to the press--student, professional or otherwise. A website called Buzzfeed, however, says that after the football player story came out, the adviser to the publication was threatened with her job.
Oh, come now. If causing embarrassment to a questionable policy is grounds for dismissal, you ain't never going to train a good journalist at Har-Ber.
And to listen to those who do talk to the papers, you might come away with thinking the students have the law on their side.
The state passed a law in 1995 clarifying the rights of student publications. The law gives specific reasons why a school may censor a student publication: if the material is obscene, if it is libelous, if it invades privacy, or if it creates a clear and present danger to students (such as the Mills gang story).
"A story about a football team and players switching schools does not fit any of those categories," said Justin Turner, a Sheridan High School journalism teacher. He should know. He's also the director of the Arkansas Journalism Education Association.
Student newspapers are there to teach. And there is a lot to learn from in this little episode:
First, kids, there is one rule above all in journalism: Get it by the boss. Whether that boss is an editor or publisher. It's hard to tell a story if the story never prints (or if the publication is suspended).
Also, life is hard. So is journalism. It gets harder when you question policy made by authorities. But don't give up, young journalists. It's as rewarding a career as you'll find. We look forward to working with you one day. Or for you.
There also is a lesson that might could be learned by the adults at Har-Ber, too:
The law isn't an ass. Follow it. If you'd have done so from the beginning in this little melee, the story of the off-sides football players might not have made statewide news. As so many have learned before, the coverup is almost always worse than the crime.
PS: Word came down late yesterday that the student newspaper may be un-suspended by the time you read this. And that the administration might have consulted somebody who knows the law. If so, this is indeed a happy ending. So we'll end.
Editorial on 12/05/2018