January 26, 2018
Teens do some serious journalism… and their school doesn’t like it one bit
by Alex Primiani
After investigating the whereabouts of a well-liked, suddenly absent history teacher at their high school, two teenage journalists in Salt Lake City published a story on their school newspaper’s website. The response from school officials, however, was not what they’d hoped for. Reporting on the controversy for the Washington Post, Eli Rosenberg details the two teenagers’ mission to speak truth to power in their school district.
When news editor Conor Spahr and editor-in-chief Max Gordon noticed one history teacher had been absent from their school for a while, they flexed their reporting skills and interviewed several of Herriman High’s students and faculty — and requested public records concerning their teacher. They discovered this particular teacher had been dismissed for alleged misconduct. It seemed worth noting in the school’s paper, the Herriman Telegraph.
Rosenberg writes what happened next:
But Spahr and Gordon woke up Friday morning to find their story had been deleted from the newspaper’s website and their status as site administrators revoked, they said. Within a few hours, the whole site was taken down at the behest of the school’s leadership.
“It’s not completely surprising,” Spahr said. “Throughout our investigative process, interviewing vice principals and others, it’s all been sort of closed off, they’ve been very distant from us.”
While Rosenberg was not able to obtain comments from school officials, he writes that local news outlets were able to corroborate many details of the teens’ reporting.
The story soon reached administrators and government officials outside Salt Lake City. District officials voiced both admiration for the intrepid journalists and resolute unwillingness to relinquish their authority over the school paper. Rosenberg quotes district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf, who told the Salt Lake Tribune’s Benjamin Wood, “We have to watch out for students.” Whatever the hell that means.
But this injustice could not—and did not—stand! Spahr and Gordon created their own website, dubbing it the Herriman Telegram, and republished the story. The site also came with an appropriate slogan: “Student Run. No Censorship.” The young reportres also circulated an online petition calling for an end to administration censorship of the Telegraph.
Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.