Drake’s student-run newspaper, The Jolly Roger, has hit rough waters in the past year and it is essential that we stand by them in their fight to publish.
Earlier this semester, the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) eliminated the position of the classified staff member running the district print shop (see page 1 for details), and the Jolly Roger found themselves unable to publish. Bound by a union contract, the paper is unable to outsource their print jobs for 39 months. That’s three whole years of printed silence from the only home-grown source Drake students have for school and community news.
This is not the first time the Jolly Roger has faced unfair opposition from the district. In June, school and district officials censored an article on anti-Semitic graffiti at the urging of a parent of a source, causing the paper to run a blank page that contained a letter explaining the situation.
“We are upset that, after studying journalistic ethics and striving to write our stories with them in mind, the district has decided to obstruct our First Amendment rights and censor our publication,” the staff wrote in the letter.
Even though the paper had consulted with the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and was assured by their lawyers of the legality of printing the story, the district still blocked publication of the story due to “concerns for student safety.”
Both the censorship and forced suspension of printing occurred because the Jolly Roger prints through the district-run print shop, unlike the Bark and Tam News, who both print through outside contractors.
The California Student Free Expression Law protects student publications, including newspapers, from prior restraint from school board officials. The TUHSD’s actions in censoring the Jolly Roger display a district with little regard for student press rights.
As fellow student journalists in the district, we are concerned by the district administration’s actions. It is important that all student-run publications, no matter their size or funding, are allowed freedom to publish. As of late, we at the Bark are fortunate enough to have the support from our school administration necessary to practice our First Amendment rights as student journalists. But it is clear that our colleagues at Drake were not granted these same rights.
We urge the district and the classified staff union to exempt the Jolly Roger from their contractual obligation, at least for the time being as they work out an agreement. The paper has been caught in the crossfire of a battle between staff unions and district budget cuts, an innocent victim of bureaucracy. The paper does not have the current infrastructure online to maintain a strong presence in the everyday lives of Drake students and report on important issues pertaining to students.
The value of journalism has been under attack recently from national politicians and we can’t let that animosity spread to local publications. We must stand in solidarity with the Jolly Roger as the district attempts to strip their journalistic freedoms. The press plays an important role in holding officials accountable for their actions, whether that be national politicians or public district officials.
In a September response to the district’s censorship, Frank LoMonte of the SPLC wrote, “We know that this is censorship, but we also know that it’s probably not censorship that can effectively be fought.”
We believe that any type of press censorship can, and should, be fought, especially when it occurs in friendly waters. The Jolly Roger should not surrender, but instead should prepare the cannons for battle. The district must allow the magazine to print with an outside contractor as they work out a long-term solution.
The Jolly Roger incidents serve as a reminder of the importance of separating student press from their school administrations. Professional media outlets must be separate from government and the same holds true for student-run publications. The role of the media is to check authority, but it can’t do this effectively if it is controlled by the authority itself.
Just because the Jolly Roger does not have the same funding or administrative support as the Bark or Tam News does not mean it should be ignored and mistreated by the district. We can’t let our friends at Drake walk the plank.