Rochester Talon Faces Prior Review

RHS+Talon+staff+feels+prior+review+stifles+their+journalistic+expression.

Katie Wolf

RHS Talon staff feels prior review stifles their journalistic expression.

Dayna Tan, News Editor

Originally meant to inform and educate readers, a recent print issue of The Talon, Rochester High School’s student-run newspaper, prompted a complaint from one parent which quickly spiraled into administrative action and, ultimately, prior review.

For The Talon’s November installment, two staff writers wrote an article regarding the different methods of contraceptive education and how it is taught at Rochester High School. A center spread with a number of pictures and graphics, including a condom on a banana and a large picture of hands opening a condom on the front cover accompanied the article.

Shortly after the article’s publication, a Rochester parent issued an email complaint. According to senior Danielle Kullman, Talon editor-in-chief, the parent felt The Talon’s November issue was inappropriate because it contained “seven pages of sex.”

Following the complaint, Rochester’s former principal, Mr. Charles Rowland, who has since retired and been replaced by interim principal Mr. Neil Deluca, told The Talon adviser, Ms. Julia Satterthwaite, to remove the article from the website. Upset by the order, The Talon pressed the “Panic Button” on the Student Press Rights Committee (SPRC) website. SPRC educates communities on the importance of the First Amendment in student news media and advocates and empowers student journalists in their exercise of free expression. SPRC promptly contacted The Talon, and guided the newspaper’s editors in their next steps.

Kullmann and two other Talon editors, seniors Colette Cloutier and Sam Medved requested a meeting with Rowland to discuss the problem. According to Cloutier, the meeting “went awful,” and The Talon’s questions and discussion were “shut down” by the administration, as they were told it [the Advanced Multimedia Communications class] is “just a class, and they are just students.”

“The main problem was that he would not tell us exactly what we did wrong and what exactly was causing it [the controversy]. That’s what we need a clear answer on; so that we can explain our side,” said Kullmann.

According to Kullmann, Rowland responded to many of the editors’ questions by saying he could not answer and that he would prefer to speak with their adviser. The editors were also told it would be “inappropriate” for them to speak with the superintendent regarding the issue.

When Deluca began his new position as interim principal, he met with Satterthwaite, and told her he would be establishing prior review over The Talon.

According to the National Scholastic Press Association, prior review in regards to student media “refers to the practice of school officials – or anyone in a position of authority outside the editorial staff – demanding that they be allowed to read (or preview) copy prior to publication and/or distribution.”

“Prior review, or censoring of the newspaper, came about when there were two instances of photographs that went against district policy as well as the code of conduct, so that is really the focus of looking at the paper and doing what you would call prior review,” said Deluca.

As part of this new process, The Talon must send all print issues to Deluca before they are published. Then, Deluca reads the articles and comes back to The Talon with any problems he perceives regarding its content. According to Deluca, in the first instance of prior review, he and Satterthwaite communicated by email, but next time, he plans to sit down together so that they can communicate any problems in person.

When asked whether Satterthwaite is experiencing any repercussions regarding the recent content of The Talon, Deluca said, “absolutely not, never,” and that Satterthwaite is “an exceptional teacher, hands down.”

Talon editors are confused about where the order for prior review originated, but they feel that the parent complaint was the catalyst of the situation and that the mandate for prior review is more an order stemming at the district level rather than from RHS administration.

“There were complaints, but that definitely didn’t start anything or change the decision of the administration to review the paper…I would say it’s a collective understanding between the board office, myself, and the teacher,” said Deluca.

Deluca’s concerns with the November installment and the first issue he reviewed seem to be focused on pictures and graphics.

“The articles were awesome, but the pictures they used were explicit. It’s not a negative thing; we just have to make sure what’s going out is appropriate and within the guidelines of our district…I don’t want it to happen, but I have to make sure my teacher is protected and our students are protected. I don’t want anything going out that will jeopardize them in any way,” said Deluca of the November issue.

According to The Talon’s editors, in the first issue he reviewed, Deluca objected to an advertisement for Crossroads Pregnancy Center, a business that has been advertising with The Talon for many years and also advertises with The Adams Kilt and Stoney Creek High School’s newspaper, The Source. Deluca also asked that a basketball picture be changed because it contained an inappropriate hand signal, which The Talon editors say is actually the symbol for a three point shot in basketball.

“It is sad that our good articles are being overshadowed by pictures that shouldn’t be the main focus,” said Cloutier.

While The Talon continues to fight for its first amendment rights, Deluca continues to review and request modifications but says it is possible that the procedure may change in the future.

“Could it change? It could. In the next year, it could definitely go back to where we were. Maybe with some review and some guidelines that we clearly have as a group…The bigger picture I want to stress here, is it’s not about trying to control anything. I’m not trying to control what’s going out. It’s about making sure we’re making the right decisions,” said Deluca.

Other news sources have published stories regarding The Talon’s prior review, including The Oakland Press and Local 4 News, but it is important to note that neither The Adams Kilt nor The Source is subject to prior review as some articles have inaccurately reported.

The Talon has won Spartan Awards from the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) and a Pacemaker Award from the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA). Kullmann was recognized as High School Journalist of the year by MIPA, and Satterthwaite was recently honored at the 2014 MIPA spring awards ceremony and received the Golden Pen Award, the highest award MIPA gives to a student media adviser.