While school officials are within the law to exercise prior restraint on student publications created as part of a student course, they should not.
If the descriptive words used in Kumar’s story are at the heart of this issue, then it’s better that the district address the use of those words, not employ a policy that allows censorship of topics some might find disagreeable.
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr., in Texas v. Johnson (1989), wrote: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
Sebert has not said the story resulted in a flood of calls or emails from parents angry that their students were exposed to these terms. According to the students, Principal Wiltzius told them Cardinal Columns should have more “positive” articles.
More “positive” articles. Because honestly addressing an issue isn’t “positive.” Shining a light on an injustice isn’t “positive.” Exposing crimes isn’t “positive.” And encouraging a more welcoming environment for those delicate creatures who want school to be a place where they don’t have to HEAR JOKES ABOUT BEING RAPED AFTER THEIR RAPES isn’t “positive.” As if positivity is a lack of offense. As if it’s the same as passivity. As if it’s not movement toward justice.
Reporters hear this positivity line all the time, from readers who can’t separate storytellers from subjects of the stories they tell. Why do you have to show us the ugliness of the world? Why can’t you just … you know, tell us about nice things? My kid’s preschool pageant, or some hedgehogs, or something? Why can’t you be a booster for the community, reinforce the readership’s every prejudice and desire, and for God’s sake make the weather forecast predict 68 and sunny every day?
BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THE JOB OF ANYBODY. It is not the job of anybody practicing journalism to make you see only rainbows and kittens. It is not the job of anybody writing for any newspaper down to and including the supermarket shoppers to show you what you want to see. It is the job of the journalist to tell you what he or she sees. To tell you the story that’s there. It’s the best and most frustrating thing about that job: Sending what is important to the writer out to the world, knowing nobody is required to care one bit.
And if you don’t like the way the world looks, if you don’t like the stories your storytellers tell you, there’s a much more productive option than breaking the mirror into which you’re gazing: MAKE A BETTER DAMN WORLD. Go make a story you want told. It is amazing how the misery of the everyday is tempered when you know you’re doing just a little bit to alleviate it, so put your energy into telling the next person who cracks a rape joke to get bent. Hard as it may be to believe, you are actually creating the world you then get told about, so stop asking for more positivity in your news coverage and go get more positivity in your LIFE.