What subjects should students be banned from discussing in a student newspaper? Explain why this is so.
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Several problems exist with school newspapers, the most perplexing of which is the line between news and social discourse (often descending to gossip). Since the fact that the school acts “in loco parentis” and since the First Amendment rights of free speech must both be addressed, the law begins with a clear definition and description of the school newspaper’s raison d’etre, as reflected in its published mission statement, which must be approved by the school administration. Most (high)school newspapers are part of a journalism program, so this mission statement is part of the education of the staff. The task of the editorial staff, then, is to identify “news” and to filter out “gossip” or personal information considered “private.”
A typical topic, then, not protected by free speech is “romantic revelations,” especially those involving alternate lifestyles. What is “dangerous” or inflammatory about such non-news items are their social consequences and their invasion of the school’s other regulations, those regarding student privilege, medical information, and the like. The student unrest in the entire student body when such lines are crossed is dangerous to all, not just the named (or “hinted at”) individuals, but also those seeking revenge or pay-back. If this caveat is both printed in the paper’s mission statement, and enforced by the editorial staff, social chaos in the form of bullying and harassment can be avoided without any First Amendment problems. The same holds true for non-news of hate crimes, drug use, sexual promiscuity, and similar areas. “News” cannot be interpreted as “juicy personal tidbits.”
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