When Their High School Deleted Their Article About The Misconduct Of A Teacher, These Students Created Their Own Newspaper

Almost a year ago, the Washington Post added a new slogan underneath its online masthead: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” This provocative quote emphasizes the duty that journalists have to the American people—we all have the rights ensured by the First Amendment, but journalists have an acute responsibility to exercise these rights, regardless of the criticism they will face.  This week, high school student journalists Conor Spahr and Max Gordon took the Post’s slogan to heart as they faced pushback after publishing information about the misconduct of a former teacher and launched an independent publication of their own to make sure their reporting reached their community.

Conor Spahr is a student journalist for The Telegraph, which is Herriman High’s school newspaper. On January 18th, he and editor-in-chief Max Gordon broke the story about an ex-teacher at Herriman who is under investigation for misconduct.

“In early November, there was a lot of questions surrounding why Ryan White had left Herriman High. Rumors circulated about it being surgery,” Spahr told Her Campus. “He was a very popular teacher so we want to get to the bottom of what had actually happened. This year we've been trying to do more important, hard hitting stories as a publication, and this felt like a great opportunity.”

As noted by the Washington Post, Spahr interviewed students and teachers in the area, and sent out requests for public records. On Friday when the story was published, it boasted the headline “Herriman High Teacher Fired For Misconduct.”

This story was quickly picked up by local news sources and The Telegraph’s pageviews skyrocketed. The truth was out: White had been fired after a complaint that he had sent inappropriate text messages to a student. However, according to a press release from Spahr and Gordon, “In the dead of morning, on January 19th, Herriman Administrators deleted the story and took the website offline...No explanation was given to the staff of The Telegraph, nor was a timeline of how long this ban would take effect.”

As Spahr told Her Campus, “Throughout our investigative process, interviewing vice principals and others, it’s all been sort of closed off, they’ve been very distant from us. So we can't say it's totally surprising that admins reacted this way. K-12 Administrators tend to be power hungry, so I think when our school officials saw all the attention this story was getting, they felt like they had to get in under control.”

“In addition to removing the website, the school put a hold on all of The Telegraph's social media accounts so that no posts can be made,” the press release stated. “Student journalists were told all posts to social media and the website would have to be approved by a vice principal in the future, despite this never being a requirement in the past.”

Spahr and Gordon did not allow their story to end in defeat. Instead, they circumvented the system and created their own news outlet, which they called The Telegram. They enlisted designers from their school newspaper, and by Sunday, the website was up, complete with the story about White’s misconduct and the slogan “Student Run. No Censorship.”

“The Telegram is a direct response to not having any control on our official school publication, The Telegraph. Sense admins completely removed our access from the website and deleted the stories, we felt we needed to get the word out,” Spahr said. “The Telegram aims to be Herriman High School's independent news source that will not censor material in any way. In the future we may look to be a news source for the state or the nation, run by high school students.”

Mike Hiestand, a Student Press Law Center legal consultant, said in the press release that “it sounds like Herriman High School official would benefit from sitting in on some civics classes. Killing the messengers is not the way to teach students about the value of a free press.”

As Spahr told Her Campus, “Without a free press, the happenings of a nation are completely concealed. The people have a right to know, and the press has the well-established freedom to report. It is especially important today as members of the United States government use their positions to attack the media.”

High school students are encouraged to apply to write for The Telegram via their website. The nation could definitely benefit from some honest, uncensored journalism from our high school citizens. If they don’t have the freedom to speak up, then nobody does.