Yet Another High School Newspaper Goes Online To Avoid District Censorship

from the control-is-a-funny-thing... dept

This is hardly the first time we've seen high school administrators try to censor the student newspaper because they were upset about article -- only to find the students simply moved over to the web and were able to get their message out to a much wider audience. The latest, coming to us via Romenesko, involves a student newspaper in Faribault, Minnesota. The superintendent got upset that the students wouldn't share the results of an investigative report before publishing it, and so he shut down the newspaper completely.

Without skipping a beat, the students set up shop online, entirely independent from the school (they even got a site that hosts student newspapers to give them free hosting). They'll continue to publish, but without support from the school (though, the teacher who was an adviser to the paper, will continue to informally advise the team). Basically, the students are realizing what plenty of others have discovered in the past: it's tough to shut people up these days, now that there's a big internet out there. The superintendent who shut them down doesn't seem to mind much either, saying: "It's well within their right. Any group of students could put together a website like that. That's the way life is in this electronic age." Of course, if that's the case, why did he bother shutting down the paper in the first place?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Adam Singer, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 7:33pm

    It's an entire generation...

    That seems to think if it is printed it is "special" or "authoritative". They somehow think what is published to the web is not real.

    They are blind because they can't see outside a world they grew up in. The world has changed and many are simply afraid of change. It's quite sad.

    Meanwhile these students will now enjoy a far greater voice than merely what existed in the walls of the school. Now their content has been set on fire by digital.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Tobin, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 7:40pm


    that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Go tell your Mom you were published on a blogspot website and then tell her that is the same as being published in the New York Times...then pause for laughter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 7:46pm


    You know, that reaction from the superintendent is *not* what I would expect from someone in that kind of position. I'd have expected "TAKE DOWN THAT WEBSITE, YOUNG MEN!".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    NYankee, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 8:15pm

    I actually think this is pretty reasonable, if the superintendent had a good reason to not want it printed. This way he is not responsible or liable for what the students say and any incidents that may arise from anything questionable being printed. He can say he has no jurisdiction over what is said on the internet thus releasing him from the responsibility. So the students get their message to a wider audience, and everyone is happy. Coming from a catholic high school, there was alot of censorship in our paper, it was actually amusing at times

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anon, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 8:57pm

    "It's well within their right. Any group of students could put together a website like that. That's the way life is in this electronic age."

    I don't know what the investigative report was about however once the student run newspaper begins to be published online, the school nor the school board has no authority over it. In addition to loosing authority, they also loose any responsibility or liability. They don't have to really worry about what's being published because the school board, in theory, can't be sued.

    It is nice that the superintendent is not trying to pull the website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 9:20pm

    Re: It's an entire generation...

    Of course the world you are living in was in fact created by many of the very people you are lumping into the "they are blind" category. The precursor work on the ARPANET began many years before you came into this world, and ever since then others have taken those initial efforts and expanded upon them to reach where we are today.

    Instead of dismissing those you may believe are out of touch, perhaps your time would be better spent contemplating what you will do to expand upon their hard work to make the system even better.

    BTW, Florida is in a cash crunch, and yet the universities keep squealing for more and more $$$. Perhaps they should get back to the business of education and out of the business of what has always been known as OJT. Seriously, I never dreamed UF even offered a degree in HM. I thought that was limited just to UCF.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Ciro, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 9:25pm

    Student Newspapers

    I did a lot of research into free speech rights with regards to student newspapers while I was in high school. Essentially, the district has no censorship authority if the paper can be properly classified as a Public Forum. One of the criteria for this classification, however, is that the instructor cannot be involved in any way with the actual paper. He or she can only serve as an informal advisor.

    Which means, of course, that it's likely the superintendent would be unable to censor the website if he wanted. But it also means that if the advisor stayed hands off, the students could legally go back to paper and not have to worry about censorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Dan, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 12:49am


    Tobin, you made the dumbest comment. Somehow I don't think the circulation of a print high school paper in Faribault, Minnesota exceeds 500, much less equal the New York Times. The internet by comparison is exposure to billions, a number even you will have to agree is greater then 500. The real point is that the students moved their content to a venue beyond the schools influence because the school abused their power. The end result is that the students voice WILL be heard and this post will insure a circulation exponentially greater the 500. Strange how free speech always seems to float to the surface.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    William, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:20am

    Truthwithecho Faribault Minnesota News

    In looking on the web, the Superintendent of Faribault Schools Bob Stepaniak stated reasons for prior review were, “It is my responsibility to be sure that the article doesn’t violate privacy rights of others and that the district is not subject to litigation because of an inappropriate remark in the article.”
    The shutdown came about after the Echo staff had investigated if a teacher was on administrative leave.
    Student editors say that the schools publication policy forbids prior review by administrators. Stepainak disagreed saying, “ There is no question that this falls within my duties as your superintendent. School Board Policy 503.3 lays this out as well as federal law. Some of your comments in our discussions led me to question if you understood this.”
    Taken from the Fairbault Minnesota News "TruthwithEcho" Web site.
    I don't understand how school board policy 503 "Student Attendance" falls within the duties of the Superintendent's responsibilities to sequester the Campus News because of a Teacher's Privacy Rights. I understand Federal Law, First amendment to the Constitution lays the law well. I just don't understand the Superintendent's interpretation of fore mentioned laws. Boggles my meager mental process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    mermaldad (profile), Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:22am


    Note that courts have ruled in the past that for a student newspaper, the school is the "owner" of the paper and its administration has editorial control. So the superintendent has every right to demand to see the contents of any article before it is published.

    So it sounds like everyone acted within their rights here. I too am impressed by the superintendent's appropriate response, as so many others would be demanding that the website be taken offline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:48am

    "if that's the case, why did he bother shutting down the paper in the first place?"

    And Techdirt ask such a stupid question is amazing.

    By the way what is a stupid question? One in which you know the answer to before you ask it.

    Hay Stupid, it is the law. If the school is the official sponsor then the school is legally liable for the content. If the news paper is published outside school without official school support then the school is not liable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 8:57am

    Re: Impressive

    He'd look like a fool, since there's nothing he can do to force them to take it down. Of course, he looks like a fool for shutting it down in the first place...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    david, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 11:18am

    nice blog : )

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Oz82, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 5:35pm

    Re: uhhhhhh

    You're right, it's not. Because when you publish in the NYT, most people have grown to understand that it's a propaganda filled has-been rag, whereas a blogger has their own innate and earned credibility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Lauren, Feb 2nd, 2009 @ 1:47pm


    Schools are protected from suits based on things published in college newspapers, which are, in turn, protected from prior review by administrators. I doubt things are much different in high schools, particularly if the paper's charter is in order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    homes, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 5:07am

    Very nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    studentjournalist, Apr 29th, 2009 @ 7:00am

    Student Censorship

    Every School is going to end up online if the administration doesn't allow them to get their stories out. We all work hard as students but the administration just wants the warm and fuzzy sports stories about how well the school is doing, not everything is going to be happy and smiling, there ARE problems! Student journalism wait and live through all the sports and junk for the BIG story that will put them on the radar for major journalism! Censorship is crap and against our freedom of speech rights

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Nina from Mauritius, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:45am


    Freedom of expression should not be questioned, youngsters should have the right to express themselves, as this what helps us develop better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Alex, Oct 8th, 2009 @ 1:38pm


    I read a lot about censorship because my current newspaper advisor urges us to learn about it. he himself went through it. it seems to me that some schools, much like this one, are creating a small dictatorship, telling students what they can and cant say. If i remember correctly, America is supposed to be the land of the "free". not the land of "do as i say"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Adam Cooper, May 31st, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    Sharing this article with a friend.

    Will you give me your permission to use your censorship blog/posting in an email I would like to send to my fellow Texan friends? Well written!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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