Mich. principal, editors defend student newspaper against community attacks

MICHIGAN — Student editors at Dexter High School’s studentnewspaper, The Squall, and their principal are defending their paperagainst attacks from community members and parents who claim the paper isprinting content that is inappropriate for its school-age audience.

Alex Everard, co-editor of Dexter High School’s student newspaper, TheSquall, defended the editorial decisions of the newspaper at the April 13Dexter school board policy meeting. The publication policies for TheSquall have been put up for review and student editors hope to remain alimited public forum, which currently limits the school’s authority onrestricting student speech. Administrators are looking into adapting theNortheast Ohio Learning Association’s (NEOLA) pre-written publication policies for student media.

“I had a chance to talk explain how we pick stories and put them together,how we follow up with reporters, and what we do when something controversialdoes come up,” Everard said. “I was able to give them examples of [when we use]our editorial policy. It showed them not only do we use it, but we use itfrequently.”

Everard presented The Squall‘s editorial policies and code ofethics at the school board meeting and is optimistic that the newspaper willremain without prior review.

“When you open the door to censorship, it’s a death wish for thenewspaper,” Everard said.

Unrest among community members over content in the newspaper resulted inanonymous blogging that criticizes The Squall. “Clean Up DHS,” highlights material that the writers’feel is inappropriate for a high school audience, citing “frank sexual talk,””promotion of drugs and alcohol,” “illegal gambling” and “tabloid journalism.”Parents upset over content in the paper brought their concerns to an April 12meeting of the Dexter Community School Board, the day before the policycommittee meeting.

At the meeting, Everard emphasized the importance of reporting the issuesat Dexter.

“I think we can all agree that in Dexter, there are problems that go on.There are issues in schools and by ignoring these, we aren’t necessarilydoing what’s right or what’s journalistically sound. Reporting themis a lot different than promoting these issues,” he said, as reported in TheDexter Leader.

Editors of The Squall, parents and Squall alumni came tospeak in support of the publication at both meetings. Principal William Moransaid he will “staunchly defend” the hands-off relationship he has with thestudent editors.

Brittany Martini, co-editor for The Squall, said it was importantfor her to inform parents and community members about the newspaper’s editingprocess at the April 12 board meeting.

“A lot of adults don’t know our procedures… We don’t just slop it alltogether, that’s not how we do things. There’s a lot of editing that goeson and we try to make sure throughout the whole process that we’re fair andbalanced and that we get every side of the story,” Martini said.

One of the stories the anonymous blog takes issue with is an article in theFebruary 2010 issue of The Squall titled “The Art of Club Crome.” Itfeatured a local teen dance club in Whitmore Lake, Mich., drawing comparisonsbetween club dances and school dances.

“They had a problem with [the article] and we had a problem with a picturethat we used. The picture was just teenagers dancing,” Martini said.

“Dirty Dealing,” published in the November 2008 issue of TheRostrum, a supplement to The Squall, profiled a student with thealias Cody Burke who makes money selling drugs at the high school. The articlewas packaged with a series on careers in The Rostrum‘s job guide.

Rod Satterthwaite, adviser for The Squall, said defending the paperhas been a learning experience.

“I think this has been a great lesson for the students and for me, and [is]a constant reminder that words are really powerful… [We have to make] surethat we can stand behind the things that we print,” he said. “We’re not justprinting things for shock value; we’re not printing things to titillate ouraudience, but that everything we print we can justify journalistically why we’redoing it.”

Moran said the board will not take action for the next few weeks. The firstreading of the new policies are expected to take place on April 26.

“I would like to board to decide on a policy being the least restrictivepolicy that we can live with. We looked at the language and I asked them to pickthe least restrictive one, which is a limited public forum. It’s their paper andthey make their decisions. It’s not mine, that’s fine with me and I’ll deal withthe fallout,” Moran said.