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Burriss on Media: High School Newspapers

Dr. Larry Burriss

Life used to be so much easier when high school students just went to class and didn’t try to act like…well, adults. Oh, wait a minute, we do want the kids to act like adults. At least some of the time.

And what about the kids? Well, they want to be treated like adults. Except when they don’t.

It seems the student editor of the Lenoir City High School paper wanted to publish an editorial describing how atheists in the school are allegedly discriminated against. The school principal decided the editorial would be disruptive, and wouldn’t allow it to be published.

The principal probably has the weight of the U.S. Supreme Court behind him, especially since it is well-settled law that school principals can control the content of school-sponsored papers.

But, let’s look at the position of the student editor, with an emphasis on the word “editor.”

In the adult world, the publisher has control of what goes into a paper. The publisher may delegate control to an editor, and may allow reporters to write what they want. But ultimately it is the publisher who has final control. And in this case the publisher is the school principal.

That’s the way it works in the adult world.

But what also happens in the adult world is that if the message is blocked in one channel, it can be distributed through another. And that’s exactly what is happening here. I found several copies of editorial on various news sites, and I imagine that as news of the school censorship spreads we will see even more copies, which will, in fact, be distributed to the school itself.

So I have to ask, is the student editor interested in making a statement about her paper, or in giving voice to her opinions? The answer to that question will tell us if she wants to be treated as a student, or as an adult.

I’m Larry Burriss.