Feature Coverage: Censorship at Ithaca High School Causes Problems with Readership

Grade: Junior

MIPA Class: Feature Coverage

Instructor: Jim Streisel

Two student suicides in the same year.
A local cell phone store employee committing a crime.
Junior high students leading a protest in the school’s halls.
All these are issues that are usually covered in the school newspaper, but the editor of the Ithaca High School newspaper, Jessica Barnes faces frustration in knowing they can’t go near these topics, and many others, in her publication, The Growler.
“Whenever we come to these conventions, like anything with M.I.P.A., it always amazes me at the stories people can do,” Barnes said. Their principal, Steve Netzley, has — and often exercises — the right to read the paper before it goes to print and pull any articles he finds inappropriate.
This process, called prior review, caused Ithaca’s paper to lose readership, according to Barnes, and has created dissatisfaction with the staff in their own paper, but the administration will not budge when it comes to the prior review policy.
“Basically anything you could consider even remotely controversial, we are not allowed to put in there,” Barnes said, “We’ve actually confronted [the principal] on it and said ‘We have the freedom of speech we should be allowed to put this in there’ and [he has] agreed and said ‘Yes you do have that right and you would win a lawsuit but when you get back you wouldn’t have your newspaper anymore.”
This created a fear of losing the paper which kept Barnes, her staff, and her adviser, from speaking out against the administration’s policy. This, according to Barnes, left the Growler with less controversial, and often less newsworthy stories. Barnes expressed her irritation towards this dilemma, explaining that students want to read about more controversial topics but because the newspaper isn’t allowed to print them, it was costing the paper many of its readers.
Similarly, Patrice Hornak, former Yearbook adviser at Ithaca High School, said the school did not subject her staff’s publication to the prior review process, but she said she understood the difficulties it created for the student newspaper staff. According to Hornak, Tyler Zuker, a previous editor, spent a weekend gathering information and writing an article about a cell phone business in town where a woman at the business was selling excess cell phone minutes.
“He did a fantastic job as a student journalist,” Hornak said. However, when it came time for the principal to review the paper, he pulled the article about the cell phone business. His reasoning, Hornak said, was that the business was a community issue, and an article about it should not appear in a school publication.
“The students can’t cover anything controversial. They took out a lot of what students wanted to read,” Hornak said, “They would love to report on more controversial issues that students would love reading. They’ve tried, but no good.”
Much like Barnes, Samantha Jones, the Life Editor of The Growler, also showed her aggravation with the troubles involving the prior review process.
“We can’t do much,” said Jones, “[The principal has] to see it before we can get it out to students. If we don’t give the administration our paper, we can’t go to print.”
The major problem, according to Barnes, is the lacking content the publication is left with, which student’s don’t want to read. This, in turn, affects the staff’s enjoyment in writing their articles, Barnes said.
“People don’t want to read stories that aren’t interesting, and when you know people don’t want to read it, it’s not fun to write. It works both ways,” Barnes said.

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