SEEKING THE TRUTH
First Amendment rights exemplified in student journalist’s lives
February 9, 2023
In 1987, a school sponsored newspaper in St. Louis published two “controversial” stories about teen pregnancy and the effect of divorce on teenagers. The principal then deleted these pages prior to publication because he deemed them inappropriate.
While deleting these two stories, the principal failed to communicate to the journalism students why they were removed. The students felt their First Amendment rights had been violated which motivated them to take their case to court. The final decision was 5-3 in favor of the school. Schools are allowed to censor any information they believe interferes with the educational mission of the school or causes a disruption.
Even though the monumental court case Tinker vs. Des Moines established the precedent of students not shedding their rights at the school doors, student journalists must conform to the school’s rules. It is understandable, in no way am I saying the school is at fault. But when the truth on a serious issue needs to be brought to the surface, will the school allow it?
“The truth hurts,” founding adviser of The Prowl Mr. Vin Cappiello said. “Often, people don’t want to read the truth, especially if the facts run contrary to their personal beliefs.”
According to Freedom Forum, “A free press means our government answers to the people. An independent news media uses its watchdog role to investigate and report on government overreach and wrongdoing and hold those in power accountable for their actions.”
At the PHS Prowl, we have a bi-weekly news meeting where we discuss story ideas for the upcoming deadline. Oftentimes, I find myself hesitating before writing a certain story or before letting someone else write that story. Is the administration going to be okay if we write a story about the polarization of politics? Am I going to get backlash for this?
In the end, I usually choose not to write anything that remotely seems controversial. I mean we’re a school newspaper; there’s no reason we should write about anything meaningful. Well, that’s how it feels sometimes.
“The problem is censorship is too alive and well in too many public schools around the country,” Mr. Cappiello said. “And often it doesn’t involve pulling stories after they’re published; it involves implicit pressure within the system to avoid writing about sensitive topics.”
However, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to write for The Prowl. Journalism sparks joy in my life whether it’s reporting news or increasing our engagement on our Instagram page. And I truly can’t imagine what Powell High School would be like without a school newspaper.
“I shudder to think what [the school] would look like [without The Prowl],” Mr. Cappiello said. “Not only does being a member of the student press provide numerous opportunities for writing, editing, publishing, leadership and the like, it also opens doors for college and beyond and prepares students for real-world challenges like hitting a deadline and performing under pressure.”
Along with reporting the truth, school newspapers have a unique opportunity to reach the whole school. Not just the jocks or the robotics kids. Regardless of stereotypes or cliques, the school newspaper is for all students. It bands us together.
Without a newspaper, a school would lose its connection with each other and the community.
“The beautiful thing about a newspaper is that anyone who reads it has the opportunity to be exposed to a new perspective and or different experience,” junior and Associate Editor Emma Johnson said. “Through The Prowl, we provide a plethora of information relevant to the town of Powell, but also highlight the students and staff that are making waves in areas that stretch far beyond the campus of Powell High School.”
The Prowl often gets overlooked. I don’t think a lot of people realize how valuable the website and the Instagram page are to our school. It’s not just our stories. Information about activities, sports and other extracurriculars is published. We recognize students for their accomplishments and hard work. Our Instagram reels receive thousands of views from PHS students and give students a reason to be excited about their school community and provide school spirit.
“When I came up with the idea to have more of a focus on videography and creating content that can directly be tied back to the students, the initial intent was to highlight our students that aren’t always showcased in the sports or activities offered at PHS,” Johnson said. “When we started to generate over a thousand of views per video, it went to prove just how much we as a newspaper possess the power to unite our student body and community.”
“The student press exists primarily for the students,” Mr. Cappiello said. “Not the teachers. Not the parents. And not the administration. It is by students, about students and for students.”
The student press exists primarily for the students. Not the teachers. Not the parents. And not the administration. It is by students, about students and for students.
— Vin Cappiello
As student reporters, our goals are not to stir up or create false information that would harm the school. Prowl reporters and editors are transparent, independent and accountable. We seek truth and report while minimizing harm.
In today’s society, misinformation has become a norm. You never know what source you can trust or which one is flooded by bias. The authority figures in our nation will twist the truth in order to get what they want. Our job as journalists is to prevent this spread of false information or else we will not be fulfilling our duty to the citizens of this country.
“The rights of the responsible citizen will continue to diminish if we continue to allow falsehoods to be blatantly communicated by public figures,” Mr. Cappiello said. “It falls to the Fourth Estate to continue to be the watchdog of the government.”
When we fail to protect, appreciate and respect the First Amendment both at a high school student and American citizen level, we risk sacrificing our rights and our freedoms.
“My journalism students used to complain about having to memorize and recite the First Amendment,” Cappiello said. “But most of them realized before too long there was a method to my madness. Those 45 words form the foundation upon which our nation was built, and so we must care for it as such and hold accountable those who wish to tread on it.”