A bill in Olympia that would strip high-school and college educators of the ability to make editorial decisions in school newspapers goes...
A bill in Olympia that would strip high-school and college educators of the ability to make editorial decisions in school newspapers goes too far to correct a problem that could be solved collaboratively.
The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, is intended to counteract a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said administrators have the right to exercise editorial judgment over school-affiliated publications if they could demonstrate an educational reason for doing so. True, the ruling, like many, can be interpreted for abuse. The problem with Upthegrove’s bill is that it almost completely takes the educators out of the process — a process that is rooted in the classroom. Journalism teachers would still be allowed to teach grammar and all the basics needed to become a journalist, but the bill denies them the ability to truly teach essential journalistic intangibles such as editorial judgment.
It is unfortunate when administrators do abuse their position. Principals should not spike stories because they are uncomfortable with factual reporting. Administrators need to understand that it is not the job of the journalist — student or professional — to paint a perfect picture of a school or community. The truth can be ugly, but an ugly truth is better than pretty silence.
The bill could be constructive with some tweaks that provide more balance. A good compromise would allow the teacher or adviser to have the final say before going to press.
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Another idea to ensure that principals are not abusing their positions is education. Jerry Bender, of the Association of Washington School Principals, floated a great idea during a hearing on the bill. Bender suggested that principals attend workshops with journalists to learn about how journalism works and how editorial decisions are made.
A sound idea, and a much better place to start than severely curtailing the job of educators.
The daily life of a journalist and editor is one of give and take. The best journalists become so by a constant head-butting collaboration with editors. Student journalists would be well-served by learning to collaborate with superiors rather than bypassing them.