Pittsburg Steel: High school journalists' investigative feat fuels calls for legal reforms — everywhere except Indiana

This weekend’s editorial pages overflowed with praise for a groundbreaking piece of student reporting by journalists whose newspaper, The Booster Redux, now has more online reads (29,457 and growing) than their town has people (20,398).

The headline heard ’round the world — District hires new principal; Background called into question after discrepancies arise — even garnered two Pittsburg High School editors a featured segment with CNN’s Jake Tapper, a former Philadelphia-area student journalist whose editorship was memorable for a different reason (resulting in suspension and community service).

The Booster Redux story has been hailed as validation of the civic value of student journalism and of the importance of state statutes like the Kansas Student Publications Act, which enabled Pittsburg journalists to take on a powerful authority figure with confidence that the law would be on their side.

This from columnist Jason Probst at Kansas’ Hutchison News:

The journalists at the Booster Redux deserve all the credit and praise that’s being sent their way – as well as administrators who encouraged their work rather than attempt to silence the students’ questions. They have demonstrated the sort of tenacity and dedication to truth that’s critical for a strong democracy, a vibrant community and hopeful future.

Calkins Media columnist Phil Gianficaro, arguably the professional media’s most reliable champion of student journalism, pulled no punches in observing that many New Jersey schools would have fired a teacher as capable as Pittsburg adviser Emily Smith for teaching students professional-caliber skills and values:

What happened at Pittsburg High School illustrates the type of impressive journalism that can be accomplished when a school doesn’t view its student newspaper as little more than the chess club. It’s the kind of greatness that can happen when the shackles come off.

As far away as Bend, Ore., the work of the Pittsburg staff was acclaimed as proof that students can produce serious public-service journalism when supported by administrators who value their work and respect the law:

In an era of “alternative facts,” the journalists at Pittsburg High serve as a reminder that there’s more to news than eye-grabbing headlines. There’s hard work, and a belief that readers have a right to know the truth. There’s a belief that truth matters, even when it’s uncomfortable. Good journalism, as practiced by these students, beats alternative facts every time.

Regrettably, some school authority figures looked at the Booster Redux and, instead of seeing an exemplary act of engaged citizenship, saw a threat — the threat that their own incompetence and mismanagement might be next in the spotlight.

In Indiana, lobbyists for school administrators sidetracked a state Senate vote to approve expanded press freedom for student journalists by claiming that the bill would lead to Pittsburg-style investigations in their own state. Obviously, these lobbyists and their Senate allies must know there are any number of Indiana school officials whose backgrounds won’t withstand checking, and unless state Rep. Ed Clere is able to pull off a miracle to resuscitate HB 1134, principals will retain the ability to intimidate students who question their qualifications and fire the teachers who support them.