November 20, 2009
The Chicago Tribune on Thursday, November 19 posted an article
implying that Stevenson High School delayed publication of its student newspaper over concerns that it contained articles harmful to the school’s reputation. The charge is false. Students in the past have run articles related to smoking and drinking, teen sexual activity, and crime, and they will in the future.
The Statesman’s publication, originally scheduled for Friday, November 20, was delayed because its faculty advisors determined that an article featuring anonymous sources discussing alleged illegal activity was not fit for print.
The advisors gave the student editors an option of holding the article for a future issue so it could be more thoroughly reported, and redesigning the current issue’s layout in order to meet their printing deadline.
The students’ preference, however, was to leave the front cover bare except for a brief note explaining that an article intended for the space was not allowed to run as written. As a result, a collaborative decision was made by the leaders of the journalism program to delay the issue’s publication until the questions about the article’s sourcing could be resolved.
The article in question was problematic for two reasons:
First, the school does not encourage the use of anonymous sources in its student newspaper. The cloak of anonymity does not guarantee truthful statements from a source. Also, within a school, it is much more difficult for a source to remain anonymous than within the community at large.
Second, Stevenson is legally bound by the principle of in loco parentis
— acting in the place of the parent. If it is aware of illegal activity on the part of its students, the school has an obligation to report such activity to their parents, and possibly, legal authorities.
The Statesman is the byproduct of the journalism courses at Stevenson High School. Because the newspaper is a component of the journalism curriculum within the Communication Arts Division, it faces the same standards that exist in other content areas, including: accuracy of information, veracity of original sources, and balanced presentation. The Statesman’s publication was delayed because these standards were not being met to the satisfaction of the journalism teachers and the director of the Communication Arts Division, and not because the subject matter of certain articles was sensitive or deemed harmful to the school’s reputation.
What occurred with the Statesman was no different than what occurs in professional newsrooms around the country every day. Stories are withheld from public view until editors are satisfied that proper levels of reporting have been done. The journalism teachers are simply following long-standing practices of the journalism profession. Rather than rushing an issue into print in order to meet a deadline, the journalism program wisely decided to delay the paper’s publication until all the articles slated to appear have been thoroughly reported and properly sourced.
"The Statesman will be published once its content meets the curriculum standards laid out by the journalism teachers at the beginning of the school year," said Director of Communication Arts Joseph Flanagan.