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High School Paper Irritates Some

December 26, 2001

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ The Register is recognized as one of the best high school newspapers in the nation, but it isn’t receiving much praise from some school administrators, teachers and parents.

The student reporters have been focusing on hard news, including student drug use, and just won their second straight ``Best of Show″ honor from the National Scholastic Press Association and the Journalism Education Association.

But critics say the Register also sensationalizes some coverage, and they would rather see stories about school activities, such as talent shows and plays.

Principal Gary Thompson was especially upset with the Register’s front page Oct. 31: One story was about a football player allowed to play in spite of an arrest that should have sidelined him; another, on a student’s methamphetamine use, he described as almost a ``how-to″ article.

``If you talk to a lot of the faculty, they don’t feel it represents Central High School very well,″ said Thompson, principal for the 2,400-student school.

Thompson said he doesn’t plan to censor the Register. However, he said the paper should better reflect Central High School, whose alumni include Hollywood legend Henry Fonda, NFL Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s three children.

The football story Oct. 31 said school administrators knew the player was ineligible because he was charged with assault, yet he played in five games. Thompson said his biggest concern was that the article included the minor’s name.

Editor-in-chief Matt Wynn wrote the article and said he used the name because the student body already knew who the player was and booed him at a pep rally.

The Register’s 17-member staff also is criticized for neglecting their other classes and putting too much time into the school’s monthly full-color, broadsheet newspaper, which has included 40 pages and a 36-page newsmagazine. Students worked on the paper at school until at least 11:30 p.m. on weeknights until Thompson recently imposed a 10 p.m. curfew.

Kirk Wynn, Matt’s father, said his son may be tired, but the paper has revitalized his interest in school.

``It has a lot to do with finding that one teacher you really relate to,″ Kirk Wynn said.

That teacher is Matt Deabler, the school’s journalism teacher and seven-year advisor. Deabler worked as a television intern and has degrees in print and broadcast journalism.

The newspaper’s staff claims administrators are trying to discredit the publication and fear it could lead to censorship. Deabler does not want the paper to become a public relations tool for the school.

``That’s not what journalism is,″ he said.

Deabler said he saw the problem coming. He had received memos questioning his decisions, and he knew some school board members were unhappy with past stories.

Matt Wynn sees it all as an attempt to alter the paper’s content.

``It’s not censorship in its purest form, which is tripping a lot of people up,″ he said.

He has been contacted the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., and may take legal action, depending on what happens.

Professional journalists and newspapers are rallying behind the paper. Made aware of the Register’s accomplishments by Wynn and former Central students around the country, reporters from the Washington Post and Kansas City Star have written letters of support. Another has called from the Boston Globe.

The Society of Professional Journalists and university journalism departments also have written, expressing their concerns about the potential loss of what they see as an outstanding program.

Thompson and other administrators have met with the Register staff to discuss the newspaper’s content. Thompson said he has never asked to see the paper before publication and does not plan to.

Deabler said he hopes the meeting will end the controversy.

``It changed us,″ Deabler said.

He described the latest 12-page issue, all black and white, as OK. ``It’s very vanilla,″ he said. ``Who knows what the next one’s going to look like.″


On The Net

Society of Professional Journalists: http://www.spj.org/

Omaha Central High School: http://ops.org/central/

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