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Newspaper controversy is a ‘teachable moment’ for all involved at Bear Creek High School

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Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2013 12:00 am

It's not rare for strong-willed principals to collide with campus journalism students or advisers, especially when those journalists are doing their job.

Such a dust-up happened recently at Bear Creek High School in Lodi Unified School District, where principal Shirley McNichols briefly confiscated copies of the school newspaper, the Bruin Voice. McNichols was worried that a front-page article about campus security plans might incite panic. She got a second opinion from higher-ups, who didn't share such concerns, and the paper was released.

The young journalists and their adviser, Kathi Duffel, were upset. They felt McNichols invoked prior restraint without adequate justification.

They may be right, and they are to be commended. Sadly, journalism on most high school campuses these days is dwindling. Witness Lodi High, where The Flame, the long-standing student newspaper, was extinguished several years ago for lack of interest.

On the campuses where journalism continues to thrive, two ingredients are typically in place. There are passionate and driven advisers, such as Duffel at Bear Creek and Roger Woo at Tokay High. And there is a corps of very bright, inquisitive students, such as those who produce The Bruin Voice.

We can't help but pause here. It is our conviction that newspaper classes on campus are uniquely valuable. Where else do students learn to think critically, communicate clearly and work in teams?

So Duffel and the students deserve laurels, in our view, for producing probative reporting at a time when campus papers have either vanished or become fluffy and feeble.

Yet we do sympathize with McNichols. Under California law, principals may halt distribution of a campus paper if they feel it presents a "clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school."

Since the horrific assault in Newtown, Conn., everyone seems jittery about school security. That makes it an especially ripe subject for young journalists. Yet it may have also heightened McNichols' sensitivity regarding safety coverage.

We don't fault McNichols, and the delay in distribution was hours, not days.

Still, we reflected this week on comments from Jim Ewert, counsel for the California Newspaper Publisher Association, which were included in the story we published by Sara Jane Pohlman.

Ewert pointed out that young journalists need to understand the consequences of what they print.

"They must bear responsibility for things they publish. If administrators prevent that from occurring, students won't truly understand the power they have and the responsibility they have to get it right," Ewert said.

He also referred to other situations involving campus journalists and administrators that have resulted in "teachable moments."

Maybe it's not too late for that at Bear Creek.

Perhaps McNichols can meet with the band of stalwart journalists and their very capable adviser. Perhaps they can share viewpoints, discuss their respective concerns, and build trust.

Maybe McNichols could be invited to write a column explaining her actions and her concerns.

Who knows? Maybe this could be a learning moment for all concerned.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Robert Jacobs posted at 6:43 am on Mon, Apr 22, 2013.

    Robert Jacobs Posts: 298

    What is this English 101, am I in class...?

  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 4:24 am on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2370

    "Maybe," "Perhaps," "Perhaps," "Maybe," ad nauseum.

    I sure would like to know who wrote this "editorial." The editorial should have been edited by a different editor to polish it up just a tad. "Herky-jerky" is my best assessment of the piece.

  • Patrick W Maple posted at 10:13 pm on Mon, Feb 18, 2013.

    Pat Maple Posts: 1805

    Mr Jacobs: I believe you make an astounding statement...paraphrasing: if the media would print the story not the hype then more people would read less bs and get more smarts! Profound!! Have you seen any long lines of people waiting to take THAT class? No?
    Seriously...your point is an astute observation. "Just report the news...truthfully".

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:50 pm on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 502

    Mr. Jacobs, the Lodi News Sentinel is a prime example of wannabe journalists ruled by a demanding family that suppresses any issues, negative stories, or criminal articles concerning the good ol' boys and the wealthy who dominate the little, livable, lovable town of Lodi.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:47 pm on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 502

    Mr. Maple, you are correct. These young journalists, as well as many of the old seasoned ones, author their own fairy tale versions of the real events using words directed to scare the citizenry, not to inform them of the real time, real life happenings.

  • Robert Jacobs posted at 6:57 am on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Robert Jacobs Posts: 298

    This article states in part: "Sadly, journalism on most high school campuses these days is dwindling."

    First, there isn't very many people who can claim they are journalists. All of the lame stream media have reporters at best but are mostly gossip columnists! Most of the time they don't have much to say, and repeat a story over and over and over again. Just tune to CNN or anyone of the big news networks.

    There are some pretty good places you can get most of the truth (without that stations or newspapers spin) but much too often you have to read quite a lot to filter through the garbage to get to the meat of the story.

    The lame stream media (and others) give special treatment to law enforcement and to those who can benefit them. And they do this because they cannot do their jobs very effectively without law enforcement cooperation. Which is crap because if they (media) would just show some integrity across the board pretty soon the police would figure out they better just cooperate.

    If any news station or network, newspaper would just report the news truthfully and as honestly as they could they would have more people tuning in or reading than they knew what to do with!

    But of course that will never happen....

  • Patrick W Maple posted at 6:42 am on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Pat Maple Posts: 1805

    The teachable moment was lost in the classroom. Journalism is an inqusition into a moment in time that seeks to answer the who, what, where, why and how of the event. Too many "journalists" today inject opinions, comments, biases, beliefs or slants and even some lies into their stories to a point that they become tangents...both the story and the writer. Opinionists and journalops not reporters. Telling me what you want me to think or believe or hear is not reporting the news...it is an offer of prostitution. If you want news write it. If you have an opinion go to Facebook or the Huff Post one should at least earn their way to opionship like Steve has. Pulling a story is wrong...pulling an opinion is not...unless an opinion was used to make the decision. A story either is or it isn't.


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