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Stevenson, Statesman need intervention
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 12/15/2009 12:00 AM

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Stevenson High School and student journalists at the Statesman newspaper sorely need intervention to heal their damaged relationship.

Problems began in February when the school ordered extra administrative oversight to address concerns about "errors," "judgment" and "balance" in the newspaper.

It deteriorated a few weeks ago in a dispute between administrators and students over use of anonymous sources in one story and concerns about factual support and balance in another, resulting in the Nov. 20 edition being withheld.

Things bottomed out days later when the school forced students to publish the paper, and rejected their proposals to run blank space instead of those disputed stories, stories without bylines and an editorial explaining their position.

Since then, administrators, student journalists and student journalism advocates have traded charges and cited school and source responsibilities while entrenching their positions.

It's clear the problem is getting worse, not better. And, that's a shame for a school the caliber of Stevenson and the nationally recognized Statesman.

Because at risk in this censorship squabble is what should be the very goal - teaching and learning about a responsible free press.

What that now means is Stevenson's school board must act to bridge the gap and ease the mistrust when it meets Thursday.

As we said in this space last February, we don't endorse everything the Statesman prints or its every approach to sensitive topics. We also don't support the authoritarian clampdown on a press that approaches those topics.

We believe this could have been better handled by both sides.

Randy Swikle, state director of the Journalism Education Association, suggests several steps to address the matter:

• Eliminate the current oversight and develop a more effective strategy.

• Work with student journalists and industry experts to create protocols to deal with journalism controversies.

• Send student and administrative representatives to attend the Protocol Conference in February, sponsored by the McCormick Freedom Project and Illinois Press Foundation.

• Participate in a round-table panel with stakeholders to discuss scholastic press issues.

What's needed is to create a dialogue that ends heavy-handed administrative control and fosters fair, objective and responsible coverage of all issues - even those that make adults uncomfortable.

Stevenson High School District 125 school board members have been publicly silent on this matter. On Thursday, we urge them to provide the leadership needed to allow teaching and learning to continue.