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A message from Marion: Attacks on press freedom have no limits


By Stan Zoller, MJE

The next time you’re grousing because an administrator wants to review a story or, worse yet, an entire issue of your student publication, think of Eric Meyer.

            And what the heck, think of Joan Meyer too.

            Do the names ring a bell? Hopefully, but sadly, they should.

            Eric Meyer is the editor and publisher of the Marion County Record which saw its offices raided by Marion, Kansas police and all of its equipment, records and notes grabbed.

            They also raided the home of Joan Meyers, Eric’s 98-year-old mother, co-owner and matriarch of the Record.

            The stress of the raid of both the Record’s office and her home was reportedly a contributing factor to her death on Aug. 12, a day after the raids.

            So, what does this have to do with scholastic journalism?


            I bristle when someone says “Oh, they’re just high school journalists.”

            Let’s clarify that. Scholastic journalists are journalists who just happen to be in high school. And while they may be enamored with attending conferences, entering contests and winning awards, the root of it all is this: Scholastic journalists are practicing journalism.

            They are not immune to the barrage of attacks on journalism and journalists. The raids on the Marion County Record and the Meyers’ home, which Eric Meyer shared with his mother, is an assault on journalism as a whole.

            Whether it’s a large urban paper, a local suburban newspaper, a well-funded high school paper, or a bare-bones publication in an inner-city school, the raids in Marion, Kansas hit home.

            Obviously, they were an assault on the First Amendment. No one can, or should, argue that. More so, experts are noting that the raids were also an assault on the Fourth Amendment.

            Marion, Kansas is a town of around 2,000 people, the size of many United States high schools. The Marion County Record, by virtue of reaching outside Marion’s city limits, has a circulation that eclipses 4,000, a number that has grown since the raids. Papers of all sizes are subject to assaults on press freedom.

            In addition to First and Fourth amendment rights, the raids seemingly violated Kansas’ FOI laws.

            So why is this important to scholastic journalists and scholastic journalism programs? FOI and Sunshine laws do not carry age requirements as they are  in place to enhance openness and transparency by government agencies, whether village boards, city councils, school boards, park boards, county boards or state legislatures.

            A stellar piece posted on Aug. 14 by Tom Jones, senior media writer for the Poynter Institute, explicitly and elegantly details the impact of the raids on press freedom. It should be required reading in all scholastic journalism classrooms. Also worth taking a look at is the PBS Newshour interview with Eric Meyer, also on Aug. 14. To no surprise, his thoughts are compelling.

            Professional media doesn’t have the Student Press Law Center to go guide and support them. Instead, they need to rely on resources such as the Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund, which provides resources to fight situations like those endured by the Marion County Record.

            All of the sites offer insights and resources about the assault facing journalism whether, as mentioned, it’s a high school newspaper, yearbook or a major media outlet.

            At the end of the day, journalists are all in this together.

            For scholastic journalists, it may be a somewhat arduous fight if prior review or prior restraint shows its ugly head.

            But unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s everyone’s fight.

            The reality is this: scholastic journalists must not only learn about journalism, they must vigilantly practice it and, now more than ever, defend it.