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Arkansas student journalists lose publishing rights, regain them, support from other journalists

by Jackie Mink, JEA Emeritus member
A recent challenge in Arkansas left a high school’s newspaper censored and prior review started. With support from other scholastic and professional journalism organizations, the school newspaper has now been allowed to publish.

I thought of a line in my favorite book “To Kill a Mockingbird”recently. It was in the courtroom scene when Atticus Finch says to a witness,“You ran to the house, you ran to the window, you ran inside, you ran to Mayella, you ran for Mr. Tate. Did you in all this running, run for a doctor?” As well as wondering why there was no medical attention, Atticus was probably wondering if the real truth may have been discovered if the doctor had been called.

There is another real Southern town in recent news with people appearing to be running around with their words and actions, but not really going for the truth. Here’s what has happened:

  • In October, 2018, theHar-Ber High School’s student newspaper, the Herald, published a story and editorial about the transfer of six varsity players from Har-Ber to Springdale High School . The school removed stories because District Supt. Jim Rollins said they were divisive and derogatory to the school community. Administrators shut down the Herald until new protocols on publishing could be established.
  • Newspaper adviser Karla Sprague, was given a written directive to not print or post online or distribute until the administration reviewed the publication. She was also reprimanded and told her job could be in jeopardy. School officials argued withholding publication did not violate the Arkansas Student Publications Act.
  • Student journalists had obtained documents with a Freedom of Information Act appeal about parental requests for the players to transfer with hardship exceptions to the other school.
  • Student reporter interviews players conflicted parental requests. Players were quoted saying they wanted the transfers for a better chance at college and professional sports, which Arkansas rules disallow.

In my opinion, after reading the story and editorial, there did not appear to be anything libelous, bullying or disruptive. There was a balance of quotes from students and administrators. It appeared the student journalists went out looking for the truth.

As it has been said many times, a school newspaper is not a public relations tool meant to s pare embarrassment to district officials or coaches or fend off complaints from parents and community members. The story and editorial could have served as a forum for comments and questions and information.

The New York Times has its famous motto ”Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

When the truth, even in high school newspapers, is hidden in darkness, it can also make other things wither and die…careers, expression, personal and professional reationships and student motivation.

For more information, go to these stories:

The Har-Ber Herald stories:
• Athletes transfers in question

Additional media with information are listed at the bottom of this reprinted story.

• Hear me roar

Coverage:
• Arkansas high school paper republishes censored story, but prior review and threat to adviser’s job remain

• Journalism students address Springdale school board

Editorials/opinions:
• A teaching moment

• Student journalists get shut down

A letter of concern

 

 

 

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