These are tense times for the top editors of the Wilson Beacon, the school newspaper at Wilson High School in Northwest D.C. They’re busy getting ready for a meeting with their principal, Kimberly Martin, with the very integrity of Wilson High journalism at stake. “We have just finished revising our editorial policies and we are going to schedule a meeting with Ms. Martin to go over the new policies and come to a mutual agreement,” note co-editors-in-chief Erin Doherty and Helen Malhotra in an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog.
Mutual agreement, at this point, is necessary because of a unilateral initiative of Martin’s. A new principal, she opened the school year by making clear that she would be pre-reviewing articles that the Beacon staff intended to publish. Beacon staffers and many others protested, a movement that includes a petition on Change.org. An editorial in the Beacon denounced the move.
Bending a bit to the pressure, Martin met with Beacon advisers and appears willing to amend the review regime, provided that the newspaper develops strong quote-checking protocols.
Just in case Martin needs a reminder of the pressures on her schoolhouse decision, she can click on this letter from the board of directors of the D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “We believe that any form of prior review of any news content by school administrators is a policy mistake and respectfully request that The Wilson Beacon never be subject to prior review,” reads the letter. And if Martin doesn’t drop the pre-screening vigilance, the SPJ chapter warns of consequences: “If policy change does not occur, we may collaborate with other journalism associations with which we often ally to further press for change at DCPS generally and at Wilson in particular,” reads the letter, which was written by SPJ DC director at large Jonathan Make on behalf of the board.
A spokeswoman for the D.C. public schools earlier this week told the Erik Wemple Blog that Martin had practiced prior review in previous postings, which included high schools in Ohio and Colorado. Further, the spokeswoman said that “prior review is a common and expected practice.” Not around here it’s not.
Audrey Sichel, a journalist who served as co-editor of Aspen (Colo.) High School’s “Skier Scribbler” in the 2013-14 school year when Martin was the principal there, said of Martin’s policy: “I would say it was definitely discussed in our classroom, but the community was unaware that it was happening.”