Takeaways on Censorship – Editorial, Issue 4 – Volume CXII

What we learned from the journalism conference about how to protect student press rights at Parker


Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

From November 10 – 12, members of “the Weekly” Editorial Board attended the National Scholastic Press Association Journalism Conference in St. Louis. Students who represent publications from all over the country attended and engaged in an immersive learning experience. For two days we sat in lectures taught by professionals to learn about topics relating to journalism.  

Our Editorial Board attended a session called “Obtaining Press Freedom In Private School” led by Scholastic Press Rights Director Kristen Taylor. The learning from this class connects directly to “the Weekly ”–a private school newspaper working to publish student voice and writing. “The Weekly” is a prominent part of the Parker community. It serves as an outlet for student perspective and criticism on school-related issues. Oftentimes, these issues involve the administration and their work. “The Weekly” has a strong relationship with administrators while still maintaining a connection to student opinion. This balance is hard to achieve. If censorship issues were to ever arise with administrators, there is certain action we would take to prevent it. The session outlined these strategies. 

Taylor compared the difference between “prior review” and “prior restraint” in the editing process of articles. Prior review is someone other than an advisor (administrators, faculty, etc) to read a piece of writing. Prior restraint is someone other than an advisor asking for changes, edits, or removal of a piece of writing. Oftentimes, what starts as prior review can lead to prior restraint. Prior restraint is oppressive and hierarchical, diminishing the value of democracy. A democracy depends on the unfiltered voice of citizens.

The first strategy is focused on a school’s mission statement. If an administrator is attempting to change an article, we can highlight key words in the mission statement that stress student independence and cultivation of ideas. Examples from the Parker mission statement include “clarity,” “responsible citizens,” and “democratic values.” These words contradict prior restraint, and emphasizing them might help administrators see a connection. 

The second strategy is specific to the staff and leadership roles. It’s critical that writers are knowledgeable about press freedom and expression before promoting it. The better a staff knows information, the more effective they can communicate a message. Thus, during a conversation with administrators, we can stress the educational and civic value of journalism.

The next strategy is focused on journalistic ethics, and education that surrounds it. There are several principles that make up journalistic ethics. One is truth and transparency. Reporting accurate information is critical to maintain relationships with sources and administration. Further, it provides a community with information to base decisions. Another principle is independence. Journalists should not report on behalf of any source or administrator. They are the voice that serves and represents community interests. Another principle is to maintain healthy relationships with administrators, and communicate often. Through interaction, administrators can get familiar with the newspaper and its values. It allows them to engage without censoring. Examples of this include inviting administrators to a meeting, or allowing them to comment on articles. These principles can be developed into an ethical code that writers can follow and practice throughout the year. 

In the future, if administrators push prior restraint, we also can point out the benefits of a hands-off approach. By not manipulating student work, they are protected personally. They are also providing a voice to community members, and an outlet to express opinions. 

We could also form alliances with parents, community members, alumni, and more. A support system and collective opinion could help ideas be communicated. There are  also resources provided through The Student Press Law Center to take action if needed. 

A journalist with both patience and tenacity can achieve respect and compliance among outside sources. “The Weekly” staff is always working to form a group of reporters that are respectful and know how to approach issues if they arise. This session served as guidance in preventing censorship and building strong journalistic bonds. 

We walked away from the conference in St. Louis with a much greater sense of our duties and responsibilities as a student newspaper to conduct quality reporting, to hold ourselves accountable, and to secure our own freedoms.