Monday, 25 March 2013

High School Journalism doesn’t work


“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:


  1. Oh, you naughty boy, Jasper!
    Still not 15 and already rocking the school boat? Rocking it good and proper, I might add. Good for you!
    Wow! Will you now be in more strife as a result of this blog post?
    And the fact the Standard is so easily accessible online?
    Who exactly took offence, and over what? The camp being cancelled story? The truth? They can't handle the truth!
    Yes, welcome to the wicked, woeful world of journalism. Sadly, you will find in the coming years (up until you are about 65, so half a century hence) that the very people who should be supporting you in your campaigning journalism are in fact the least supportive. They will shout “free press” in your very presence, and yet believe in something entirely different. Quite the opposite in fact. I could write a book on this subject, and may yet still do.
    This is so appropriate (at least for me) at this time.
    I’m headed for Greymouth, for a 50th reunion of the (high school) Class of ‘63. Back then I used my Underwood Universal typewriter to write saucy little James Bond and Carter Brown-inspired novels on A5 sheets of coloured paper, all of which were devoured by my classmates. I ensured no teacher ever saw them, no adult in fact (parents included), and that the evidence was later destroyed.
    Yet the memories are obviously still fresh in the minds of those who read them.
    The novels are bound to be discussed over Easter.
    I do hope your Standard issue will be discussed when your class reunites in 50 years’ time. It deserves to be.

    1. Thank you, Robert.
      I shouldn't get into too much more strife - this blog isn't widely known out of typewriter circles, and even in typewriter circles it's a little obscure.
      The camp being cancelled story was caused the most problems, but the opinion pieces ("Cranky Columns") were considered blasphemous against the school.
      I do hope that the Standard joins the halls of valour that your novels are in - the halls which hold the memories of all great student escapades.

  2. Unfortunately, we're in an era when free press isn't a popular thing. Sure, it is free if you own the publication, but not for the journalists.

    Every time I hear the ABC faithfully publish the 'opposing' point of view - which was utter garbage, I feel a face-palm come on. Every time I read the courier mail rattle off what government spokespeople have said, I just feel myself sinking into the sludge of the sewer.

    I hate that this is what has become of our journalism. And I hate it, because it isn't because of the powers that be, it is because of the expectations of the audience. People seek comforting lies, over confronting truths. And it makes me angry.

    1. I share your anger, Scott.
      An intelligent audience, demanding intelligent thought is definitely lacking in this modern world of ours. And it's a cycle that should be fought against.

  3. I don't get it. Which story is controversial? I think some Rage Against The Machine turned up rather loud may be in order here....

    1. To be honest, I don't get it either, Steve.

      It's controversial because that's what it has been turned into - but most of it is either true, or opinion.

      And thank you: loud music with a message is always appropriate in times like this...

  4. Hmmmm. Now that we know what the controversy is, we want to know _why_ it's a controversy. It seems to me the administrators of the school would have more to complain about in the Letters to the Editor, especially the writing style of the dress code one. Is that the result of their teaching?

    But more to your point, we're glad to see your indignation, your willingness to see through to the center of an issue, beyond the façade. We love that you're taking some lessons from Orwell, and especially that you're learning those lessons at such an early age.

    == Michael Höhne

    1. Thanks, Michael.

      Sadly, I can't tell you the "why". Personally, I see it as an overreaction to what is essentially the truth. The dress code letter perhaps wasn't the greatest thing to print, I'll admit that, but I didn't think it would blow up to be anything worth mentioning.

  5. Stand proud and make the powers that be uncomfortable -- that's your calling!