Embattled editors tell their powerful stories at SPLC dinner
Sometimes it’s the bad things in life that help a person find a cause, a passion or a pathway. From a Pulitzer Prize-winner who sued his principal in the ‘70s to two teens, still closely involved in censorship issues at their own schools, those at the Student Press Law Center’s 40th anniversary dinner Oct. 16 heard stories every teen journalist and adviser should hear.
The more than 200 attendees at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., were lawyers, educators, donors, former interns and others who know the value of students having a voice. They heard a night of stories that could only strengthen that belief.
Keynoter Barton Gellman, national correspondent for the Washington Post, was an SPLC intern in 1979, but before that, as he told the audience, he was a student editor at George Washington High School in Philadelphia. He and his two co-editors wanted to make the paper cutting edge and something that reported on topics his fellow students wanted and needed to know.
Not a good idea, said his principal Carol Wacker, as she pulled the issue. The three teens eventually won the case that ensued, but their stories never were published. Gellman, however, went on to win awards for his coverage of 9/11 and of vice president Dick Cheney.
As editor Gillian McGoldrick and former editor Tanvi Kumar tell their stories to NPR co-host Audie Cornish, another former student who stood up for her right so speak — Mary Beth Tinker — tapes the presentation. (photo by John Bowen)
But as good as Gellman’s story was, probably even more inspiring were Gillian McGoldrick, editor of The Playwickian at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania and Tanvi Kumar, now a college student but last year’s editor of Cardinal Columns at Fond du Lac High School in Wisconsin.
Interviewed by Audie Cornish, NPR co-host of “All Things Considered,” the young women explained the challenges they had faced. For McGoldrick, it was – and still is – an administration that wanted to force her newspaper staff to refer to the school teams by the racially offensive term Redskins. They refused, and a battle has continued. McGoldrick was even suspended during fall semester 2014.
Cornish asked what has she learned from all this. Said McGoldrick, “Speak truth to power.”
When Kumar, now a college student at George Washington University, told her story about trying to report on the rape culture in her Wisconsin high school, she faced a new prior review policy. Although the policy was eased a bit this fall after she left, she told Cornish, “This is about telling the truth.”
She said she may not become a journalist, but she has learned, “The law protects me. I want to do something to protect others.”
Their stories made Cornish ask if they ever wondered, “Is anyone out there? Does anyone care I’m doing this story?” Those in the audience at the SPLC celebration wonder. Others across the country do as well, and they hope students like Gellman, McGoldrick and Kumar continue to speak truth with the help of the SPLC.