Staff Ed: Respect for journalists

The Purple Tide Staff

One of the main responsibilities of school administrators and security personnel is to patrol the halls and the cafeteria, especially during lunches. In keeping all staff and students safe and secure during the day, they have largely done a phenomenal job. As student journalists, however, we have encountered some issues when leaving class to conduct interviews and take pictures for the newspaper, even when we present our press passes to adult authority figures throughout the building.

First and foremost, we should note that we have no intention of implying this is the case for all Purple Tide reporters. Out of 25 staff members who were polled, 10 said that they had never had a negative interaction with school personnel, and that their interactions had been friendly and polite ones.

However, a majority of newspaper students do not feel comfortable when conducting journalism work outside of the classroom. Of the 25 polled staffers, 16 reported concerns about getting in trouble. These fears very much stem from the assumption among security personnel and administrators that the reporters are skipping class or are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. At times, some feel as though they are treated like little kids rather than journalists working for a publication that won the First Amendment Press Freedom Award for the past two years, in addition to other state and national awards.

We understand that it is the role of the adults in the building to keep everyone safe, but many feel they sometimes go about it in an adversarial manner and do not give student journalists entirely fair treatment. To extrapolate, one of the basic principles of the U.S. criminal justice system is that of reasonable doubt: insofar as there is fair reason to doubt the guilt of the defendant, he or she must not be declared guilty. From this principle is derived the social custom often called “benefit of the doubt”: Whenever a dearth of evidence exists concerning what an individual is doing, it should not be assumed that he or she is doing something wrong. School administrators and security personnel too often disregard this dictum. Sometimes they are overly accusatory and suspicious, seeming to think from the premise that students are walking the halls for negative reasons.

Adults in the building must actively listen to student journalists’ reasons for traveling in and out of the cafeteria during class hours; the schooldays of all parties involved will be made easier once they come to realize that our intent is good. This understanding could perhaps be fostered through a meeting in which school personnel are informed of the requirement of nearly all student journalists to find sources, and therefore take advantage of opportunities such as lunch to interview students.

Our hope is that the expression of these sentiments does not invoke controversy or anger, but instead that it brings about a greater understanding, between both parties, of issues that have distracted some student journalists from the reporting process. We respect and value our administrators and security staff, and ask of them nothing more than that they treat us in the same manner.