HERRIMAN Utah (News4Utah) – Journalism students decided their story would get out.
A story about a fired teacher was at the center of the disagreement between students of the Herriman High School newspaper and the administration.
News4 Utah reported on the firing of teacher Ryan White. Unified Police said he is under criminal investigation for “inappropriate” texting with a female student. The Jordan School District fired White last November but would not comment about why he was dismissed.
Connor Spahr, the news editor for the Herriman Telegraph, along with his staff had been working on the White firing for months. Through their sources they were able to piece a story about the reason why White was fired. But when school officials blocked the story from being published, Spahr called News4Utah. Once the story was broadcast, the students placed their story on the school newspaper’s website. The next day it was removed by school officials.
Spahr called it censorship. But they decided to publish their story by creating an alternative newspaper called the HerrimanTelegram.com
“We just wanted to get the word out there,” said Spahr. “We feel people have a right to know what’s going on in their school.”
A spokesperson for the school district said it wasn’t censorship but the district had reasons for removing the story.
In a statement, the district said: “(The district) encourages thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting of all stories in our school newspapers. It is the responsibility of students, school advisors and administrators to have every story meet these expectations. We encourage students to participate in responsible journalism, sharing informative stories as part of their educational experience.”
But Spahr and the students went to a vice principle before publishing it to see if it would be approved for printing. He said the vice principal offered feedback and made changes.
“We stand by the accuracy of our reporting,” said Spahr.
The controversy caught the eye of the Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).
Dr. Jean Reid Norman is a professor at Weber State University and advisor for the school’s paper. She also serves on the board of Utah’s SPJ.
“The students did good reporting,” said Dr. Reid Norman. “They had anonymous sources but just like the Washington Post during Watergate, they had multiple anonymous sources.”
She also said the students obtained documents under Utah’s GRAMA laws to further back their story to readers.
“They were very transparent in showing their readers what the documents had to say,” she said. “It’s student journalism. So there are going to be, it’s not going to be perfect. There was some subjective language. But the reporting, they worked really hard to follow standard journalism practices.”
The student newspaper’s faculty advisor at Herriman High School said the district also had the U.S. Supreme court on its side.
“We know the administration, the district has the final say on what is published and what is said,” said Alex Sousa, the faculty advisor. “It’s within their rights, legally it’s within their rights.”
But Sousa said he instructed his students to continue their passion and never be afraid to ask tough questions. He said the students got a lesson in real-life journalism.
“In journalism and I explained this to some extent, stories get killed all the time that just happens,” he said. “That’s the nature of the business and you have to be passionate about it to an extent.”