In a move that surprised no one involved in this idiocy, the Cardinal Columns student newspaper at Fond du Lac High School was officially censored Wednesday. The students had been waiting more than two weeks to hear back from Principal Jon Wiltzius regarding the content of the most recent issue. The paper’s requirement that the principal see and approve of all the content prior to it going to press is likely to delay the publication close to a month. (This figure accounts for the week of spring break and the fact that it’s Friday of the third week and the publication hasn’t made the “necessary changes” that Wiltzius outlined after reading the publication several weeks ago.)
According to sources dealing with this debacle, the students have been cut out of the discussion. Wiltzius, who you might remember talked about wanting to have little Fireside Chats with the kids to make things just feel better, will no longer address these issues with the students. Instead, he has called adviser Matt Smith on the carpet several times.
In at least one of those discussions, he was said to have told Smith that Cardinal Columns is “not a real newspaper” and that there was no need to do “journalism stuff.” Instead, he argued, the paper should just write about cute and fuzzy things and not bring shame upon the school. (Quick! Shield yourself from the irony of that statement, given that Wiltzius’ decisions are the ones that are making people look at Fondy High like it’s run by Cro-Magnon Man.)
Among the things censored include the following elements:
- A photo illustration that went along with the story about censorship. Wiltzius said the illustration was “disrespectful.” (See above for this horrific image. Probably not safe for work if you work in Fond du Lac…)
- The name of a student who spoke freely to the paper about his expulsion. At first, Wiltzius was going to cut the whole story, but instead backed off to just require the name to be cut, citing “liability” issues if the name were to run. When pressed, he was unable to explain exactly what that meant. In addition, the name of the student is all over Facebook and Twitter, primarily because the kid himself is complaining that he hasn’t been able to get his story out there in CC. In addition, both Wiltzius and Superintendent James Sebert were sources for this story, thus begging the question, “Why the hell would you cut a story in which you had participated? You can’t possibly think they interviewed you for fun…”
- A graphic that illustrated how hurtful it was when people used Twitter to bully other people. The word “faggot” was included to show the hurtful nature of what people had received as digital messages. Wiltzius wanted the word cut.
In addition to these censorship issues, Wiltzius is pressing the paper to use courtesy titles for faculty members (Mr., Mrs., Dr. etc.) because using a last name only in secondary references is disrespectful.
Again, not to point out the obvious, almost EVERY professional newspaper (Yes, NY Times, I understand you’re different) uses this approach to attribution. It’s commonplace, something this “adult” who is supposed to be providing “oversight” would probably know if he read a newspaper on occasion.
Here’s something else that Wiltzius might like to know about how newspapers and the law work: WARPING CONTENT TO FIT YOUR PREFERENCES IS NOT THE INTENTION OF THE LAW.
The Hazelwood ruling was meant to allow administrators leeway to change content when it had a strong likelihood of disrupting the school’s day-to-day activities. In addition, it held that the administrators had to show that this was highly likely to occur unless the censorship was allowed to take place.
That’s a pretty high bar. Calling someone “Mr.” on a second reference doesn’t even come close to that threshold.
The problem with situations like this one is that they lead to an ever-escalating version of whatever PC term we now use to define a “Mexican Standoff.” The first pass takes place, the situation continues to get more and more tense and no one wants to look like they’re going to be the one who gives up. When it comes to administration officials, their fears are even worse: They don’t want to be seen as wrong because they fear that EVERY decision they make will be called into question and that can lead to all-out anarchy.
Perhaps, but that’s why people need to THINK before they make decisions so that there are fewer chances for being wrong. It also helps to be right on occasion on general principle, with the idea that when you are actually wrong, you can back out of the situation and people don’t think less of you for it.
School board meets Monday. More to follow.