I founded "HTV Magazine" at Hillcrest High School in 1989. I am still the show's adviser. It is produced each month by our advanced Broadcast Journalism II staff, made up of about 18 juniors and seniors each year.
We operated under no prior review or restraint from the fall of 1989 until the fall of 2001. By that time, we were on the cusp of winning our sixth consecutive Broadcast Pacemaker Award, we had earned three Robert F. Kennedy High School Journalism Awards, and had gained a national reputation for doing strong journalistic stories, credible and accurate, with a true teen voice.
Then it happened.
Hazelwood came calling in late September of 2001, not long after the 9-11 attacks on America. During a student commentary, an HTVer had the audacity to compare contentious local school board meetings to a reality show where "everyone sits around stabbing each other in the back." The line was the only mention of the school board made, and it came across as humorous. As my principal said at the time, "Nobody can say it's not true." She was in our corner.
The superintendent, on the other hand, was less amused. After the program ran on Thursday night in its usual 6:30 and 10:30 time slots, I got a call on Friday afternoon. I was asked to take that line out of the show before it ran again over the weekend. Seriously? A one-liner by a student who was making one simple point about a bickering school board, something which was well-documented in the local media for months, had inspired the first-ever attempt to censor HTV.
It was our 13th year on the air.
When it comes to the debris left behind by the Hazelwood decision, which empowered administrators who have zero training in journalism to censor journalism, the scholastic landscape is littered with daring students and hard-working, dedicated advisers who have seen their stories altered, or canned altogether, because someone up above deems them too sensitive, or often, just too true. "Do not report that the air quality in our school is bad, even though it is, well, bad."
I envy those who regained their scholastic press freedoms thanks to post-Hazelwood laws that protect young journalists in a handful of states. Those of us in the other 42 states need to find sympathetic politicians ready to carry our concerns to the legislative level.
The scenario that played out in 2001 at Hillcrest was about a superintendent out to protect his relationship with the school board that hired him. That motivated the confrontation over that one line in an OPINION piece, clearly labeled since the title was, "JUST HIS OPINION." The commentary was actually about reality TV shows. The school board reference was thrown in for a laugh.
We were not laughing afterward.
While the students and I refused to change the line in any way, and the show did return to its regular time slots the next week, things changed thanks to this fight, and not for the better. Going forward, all student-produced programming was placed under prior review by our district. We had to submit our shows a full week ahead of their air date. I am not sure how the higher-ups justified it. They just did it. And it lasted for several years before we all moved our shows to the Internet. It appears as long as we are not seen on local TV anymore, we are safe. No prior review.
At least until the next time.
So as we look ahead to the 25th anniversary of the Hazelwood decision on January 13, the ASB staff has invited three guest bloggers to provide what I think you will find are three thought-provoking columns in the days ahead. Feel free to share them with your students or colleagues, and when this Sunday, January 13th arrives, pause at least once during the day to think about how "HTV Magazine" was placed under censorship less than a month after an attack on our nation threatened all of our freedoms, except for Freedom of the Press. Students had already lost that in 1988.
Dave Davis is the longtime adviser of "HTV Magazine" at Hillcrest High School in Springfield, MO. He was a founder of the Student Television Network in 1999, and served as its first president, and its first National Convention Chairman. Since the summer of 2000, Davis has directed a week-long training seminar for scholastic broadcast teachers called the "ASB Workshop," recognized as one of the nation's best and most effective professional development opportunities, with a strong emphasis on journalistic ethics, responsibilities, story gathering and storytelling. He also writes a bi-monthly blog aimed at high school broadcast teachers.