“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: all else is public relations.”
– George Orwell
Can real journalism work in a school setting? No, it can’t – and this belief of mine was reaffirmed last week when I caused a bit of a stir with the publication of the “school” newspaper, The Student’s Standard.
The issues were printed, and I promptly when on a school camp, cutting myself off from the action. When I got back things weren’t in a good way. The school wasn’t amused, and all the issues had been collected up so that no one else would read this “defamatory” publication.
There were claims of slander, that I took someone out of context, that articles shouldn’t have been published. But then I made my counter claim: It’s a free press.
But this is the heart of the problem: any high school newspaper doesn’t really have a free press. The school, however disconnected, will always have some say it what goes to press. The editor – in this case me – is a figurehead that is still answering to higher forces. Perhaps like the “real” media, I wouldn’t know.
Perhaps this is my introduction to the real world. The real world where we may well say that “Oh, the free press is free”, but where in fact the press really is locked up.
“Comment is free,” wrote CP Scott in a Guardian editorial in 1921, “but facts are sacred.”
But, in the case of the little Student’s Standard, this is no longer the case. Anonymous publication is out, and every editorial must be run past the school. Every quote, too, must have accompanying written permission prior to publication. A student newspaper run by students is in fact controlled by adults.
The facts we printed – the ones which were faithfully checked – were considered sacred by us, but unholy by the school. Is it a fear of the truth? A fear that runs to the heart of our society? Yes, it probably is. The school doesn’t want the world to know anything bad about itself. It’s own reputation is sacred and shouldn’t be messed with – a dictum that is being forced upon me.
It is for this reason that high school journalism doesn’t work. Comment is free, and facts that are unholy are “forgotten” about.
As the editor, of course it was me who copped most of it. Now, my job, essentially, is to print public relations – stuff that the school would like the world to know about. Of course, they cover this up and say that it’s to prevent libel and lawsuits and things that I wouldn’t be able to manage, but really it’s obvious – the truth has become a scary business.
The student body is furious, too. We want to have our own voice, not one that is carefully checked and taught fine elocution and manners.
The word “journalism” will now have to be used in the lightest sense. Yes, it will be reporting – of the facts that we’re allowed to report on. And it’s because school-supported journalism is rubbish – they’ll teach us the skills and turn around and say, but no, you’re not allowed to use them.
But we aren’t deterred. We’ll be fearless – we’ll be free and open with everything. Because journalism is harsh – we’ve been told that by the school – but it’s effective in making the situation better in the long run. After all, how can you fix a problem if you refuse to believe it’s there?
N.B. The original version of this post was removed after I was kindly informed by Mr Michael Hohne that I didn’t actually mention the controversy as referred to in the original title “Journalistic Controversy”. This version, written with my brain switched on and with a new title, may actually make some more sense.
N.B. (again). You can read the issue that landed it’s editor and to a lesser extent his editor’s typewriter in hot water here: http://issuu.com/thestudentsstandard/docs/the_students_standard_7