It’s Your Decision: Name That Player

Rumors are circulating that a high school football player has been charged with assault. The sports editor of the student newspaper verifies which player has been accused and checks the district’s eligibility policy. The player participated in five games, after being charged with assault. This is against district policy. The sports editor is ready to write the article for the next issue of the student newspaper.

It’s decision time. With whom do you agree?

1.____

The adviser to the newspaper who supports publication of an article that focuses on the district policy. He reminds editors that most professional journalists do not publish the names of minors who are accused of wrongdoing.

2.____ The principal who does not want the sports editor to write an article. He believes this story could hurt student athletes from the school who are hoping for athletic scholarships to college. If an article is written, the student’s name should not be used, he says. The newspaper should write more stories about positive school activities and fewer hard-hitting stories.

3.____

 

The sports editor who wants to include the assault charges and the district’s policy in the student newspaper. He wants to interview the football coach and use the student’s name. Publication will stop the gossip and rumors, and all students will be given the same information about the incident.






















You know the Supreme Court cases involving student rights. Which apply in this situation? What would you do? Do you publish? Do you remove the athlete’s name from the article.

Name That Player - Background for Discussion

The Real Situation
A student who attended Central High School in Omaha, Neb., was charged in August 2001 with two counts of assault. When reading copy planned for The Register, the school’s newspaper, principal Gary Thompson saw the article about the athlete who played in five football games in spite of district policy that would have made him ineligible to play, based on the assault charges. Thompson expressed concern. He felt the story should not contain the player’s name. He cautioned editor Matt Wynn and journalism adviser Matt Deabler about the implications of running the story, according to the Student Press Law Center. Thompson allowed the newspaper to make the final decision of whether or not to publish the article. The story ran under the title, “Athlete plays despite assault charges.” The athlete was named in the story.

The Reaction
Gary Thompson and other administrators met with the adviser of The Register to express concern about the paper’s aggressive reporting and edgy articles. The Register, winner of scholastic journalism awards, had covered use of methamphetamine by high school students and an analysis of the death penalty.

When the situation similar to “Name That Player” took place in Omaha, Neb., in late October 2001, The Society of Professional Journalists supported the student journalists. “Real journalism can be messy and difficult, and sometimes even we professionals don’t make the right calls. But students need the right to be wrong. They need the freedom to learn from their mistakes,” SPJ President Al Cross said.

“While most general-circulation newspapers would not have used the student’s name, many Central students already knew about the charges,” Cross said. “Thus, some students were informed, at least partially so, and others were not. … While this is a debatable decision, school officials are using it as a pretext to impose their public-relations philosophy on the newspaper, which will defeat much of the purpose of having a newspaper in the first place.”

The Omaha World-Herald reported that the school’s principal said he has no desire to censor or edit the paper, but he feels responsible for setting guidelines.

“The principal has told the newspaper staff that they will ‘take a look’ at the next issue, post-publication, and then decide what action to take,” said SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chairman Charles N. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “The threat of censorship is in the air and it creates self-censorship. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that school officials can exercise control over high school journalists only for pedagogical purposes, and nothing that is happening at Central High is related to anything other than administrator self-interest and spin control.”


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