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SPJ condemns high school newspaper censorship in Tennessee

For Immediate Release

David Carlson, President, (352) 846-0171 or carlson@spj.org
Mead Loop, Vice President Campus Chapter Affairs, (607) 274-3047 or mloop@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists condemns the decision of a Tennessee school principal who censored the school newspaper.

“This is an example – a bad example – of school officials censoring news content simply because they disagree with it,” said SPJ President David Carlson, the Cox/Palm Beach Post professor of journalism at the University of Florida.

Oak Ridge High School Principal Becky Ervin seized 1,800 copies of the Oak Leaf newspaper last week after a student columnist wrote about birth control. The principal also had qualms about an article featuring photos of students’ tattoos and piercings, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported.

A press release from the district’s superintendent, Thomas Bailey, said, “…the administration felt that the interests of the student population would not be served by certain content of the articles.” A revised version of the newspaper is being prepared for distribution this week.

Bailey defended the censorship. “The action of the principal was totally appropriate,” Bailey told the News-Sentinel. “I would have done the same thing as a principal all the way to the end, whatever the end may be. We have a responsibility to the public to do the right thing. We’ve got 14-year-olds that read the [student] newspaper.”

Mead Loop, SPJ’s vice president for campus chapter affairs, said, “In politics, the cover-up is often worse than the crime, and, unfortunately, here we have an example where a principal teaches a lesson to students that censorship is preferred to an open reading of news.”

Carlson said, “Educators should foster open discussion of ideas rather than attempt to limit the discussion. It appears the students tried to do good journalism, and the administration is holding them back.”

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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