Monday, June 1, 2009

It's Not Watergate, but Still...

As the final days of school wrap up, Mrs. Scribe finds herself in somewhat of a quandary.

Those of you who tuned in to Sex Gate the last couple of weeks know that I met with Principal Man, my administrator & department chair. He cleared the air a tad; I spoke my piece & stood up for my students; he came to the conclusion that he believed in my journalistas' right to free speech & won't censor the newspaper.

That was my big worry. But now I'm feeling bad for him. Feeling sorry for the schmoe who put me & my staff thru 10 days of Chinese Water Torture; feeling empathy for the schmuck who tried to get me to jump thru 7 hoops & 15 rings of fire because some on the faculty & in the community yelled at him; second-guessing my professional instincts because of what is about to happen to him.

Our final issue of the year comes out next week. In it, my newspaper staff will run another editorial, but this time the message will be a tad different. We're still learning, they'll say to their readers; perhaps the lead paragraph of the last editorial was a tad racy; if we had it to do all over again perhaps, they say, they'd tone it down a bit.

A mea culpa, of sorts.

On the other opinion page, opposite this teenaged apology (an oxymoron?) will be several letters-to-the-editor. Not at all unusual for the student-run newspaper, considering the talk that their last issue engendered.

But not one of these letters is written in support of Principal Man.

He, and my administrator, tell me he's "heard" from up to 100 folks about the salaciousness of the material in our mid-May issue. After talking it out last week, sounds to moi like a lot of that was talk. The reason he wasn't forwarding e-mails to me is because he didn't have many to forward. Teachers approached him in the hall; parents talked to him at baseball games. And while the e-mails in support of our student journalistas have topped 70 in the past week, only one-a brief, almost incoherent, misspelled rant-crossed my cyber-desk in opposition to the kids. And that writer didn't want her words to be displayed in print.

Two of my cherubs went to talk to an allegedly "offended" teacher last week. She's been telling her classes how horrible the student journalistas are, how they crossed the line by talking dirty in print, how their adviser (that would be moi) should be ashamed.

So my students visited her classroom to ask her to write a letter-to-the-editor. To balance things out in the last issue of the year. She refused.
"I don't want to be called out" by her students, she said. In other words, she didn't wish to put her money where her blabbermouth is.

Mr. Fairway suggests putting all the letters into the "circular file," & not running any. If they're all against Principal Man to some degree, Mr. F. argues, won't we be adding fuel to the fire?

My journalistic training, however, says those letters should run. The students certainly want them to. They believe that they've been vindicated by a positive response.

So, Dear Readers, I ask you: What should we do?

BTW, the monkey at the top of this post comes from the Artificial Duck Co.


Nancy Flanagan said...

No, it's not Watergate. But this is precisely how watergatian stories begin: third-rate burglaries and a few racy word images begin to reveal something close to Truth. And truth, without varnish, is what you're aiming for, right?

You know that all the angst over THE story (and your upcoming story) is because it's easier to pin blame on you and your J-kids than to ask why HS students are groping and grinding in the halls, right? That would mean pulling back the camera, asking the hard questions about school leadership, staff unity, craven media, and societal values. Can't go there.

From a quality of journalism/quality of teaching POV, your article would be vastly strengthened by rounding up someone who would present a contrasting opinion. Or even two, divergent, contrasting opinions. It would push your readers to see that this is not "Mrs. Scribe vs. the Principal" (movin' on up!)-- but more like "what behaviors should be private?" or even (if you're lucky) "why do HS students do this in the hallway with impunity--what's in it for them?" or "what happened to self-respect?"

You've got a great story and an audience. Make the most of it by printing something provocative in deeper ways than clever language.

Good luck, Mrs. Scribe. Do you think "watergatian" might enter the national lexicon?

Tracy P. said...

I like the idea of drumming up a contrasting opinion. Would you ever consider letting them publish one of your own? (I don't know the protocol around that sort of thing.) I agree--Principal Man deserves a little credit for sticking his neck out this time, and at the same time, the kids have learned a valuable lesson that can be celebrated.

Lynda said...

I agree with Nancy - stick to the subject, not the aftermath!

freegal1000 said...

you totally have to print them. if principal dumbass decides to be a dumbass after the paper comes out, simply tell him you asked an opposer of the story to write something and she chose not to. its not your fault nobody on his "side" wanted to write an opinion, so just run what you have. and if he comes after you, tell him ill come down there and kick his ass personally

parentingBYdummies said...

Not sure what to do b/c I'm still in the process of researching (aka reading your archives), but so far I'm thinking you are awesome and so are your student journalistas and this will be an awesome learning experience for them to take with them as the become future Washington Post (or whichever you read!) writers:)

Ashley said...

I think you should definitely run the letters-to-the-editor. Maybe even put some comment along with the section saying that every effort was made to have a dissenting opinion but none were offered. That would be so telling.

Yay for free speech!!!

parentingBYdummies said...

Oh, and I don't read the Washington Post, I read People, but I live in the D.C. area so you know, it's on my mind!

Ronnica said...

I would print the letters, preceeded by a brief note that attempts were made to get a letter on the other side of the issue, but no one was willing to write about the issue and put it in the paper. If you print the letters without some explaination, it'll just be assumed that the reason is that you're only wanting to tell your side of the story.

Tara R. said...

If you can't get someone to offer a dissenting opinion, maybe that should be part of the story. Where are all these opponents? I say run the letters.

Columbia Lily said...

I agree with the couple of comments that stated that you should state that you asked for a dissenting opinion but no one was willing to go on the record. This is a tough one. I can sympathize with the principal, they are between a rock and a hard place so many times with this stuff. Parents can be pretty intense and it's cool that he stuck up for you, not every principal would do that. **sigh** this is a tough call. Good luck.

And aren't those teachers awesome? The ones who talk about you behind your back TO YOUR STUDENTS??

MammaDawg said...

Oh my.

Ditto to Ashley and Ronnica!!

Tulsi said...

If it is more talk than "paper", it's kind of hard to print them. The ones who actually signed names could be printed. Having two kids graduate high school and one an incoming sophomore, I still don't see anything wrong in what was written. It was factual and to the point. And I'm seriously conservative. My daughter is on the year book staff and I don't think I would want it there, but then again, why not - if the page was right for the subject matter. I guess I can see why the whoopla. But then again, I don't. A teacher cousin said that hall video tape is actually looked at so we know a little relative who would have done well reading your paper.

Shawn said...

I would definitely print them---but not anonymous ones---and maybe do some intro.---as Ronnica said so well...

These kids should know that if they were to do this on a real paper---it would be printed, right?

Good luck, my dear!

Marrdy said...

I say print them. And that other teacher shouldn't be bad mouthing you and your paper if they are unwilling to step forward and state their issues.


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