Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Free press and the 'fun' of sexting

If anyone in the journalism universe is thinking about making the squelching of the March edition of Omaha North's student newspaper a First Amendment cause célèbre . . . don't.

This is no fit hill on which to die.

Take lazy student "journalists" who can't be bothered with more than a single viewpoint. Add an "in-depth" section on sex. Season with prurient photos and a condoms-on-bananas tutorial.

Then leave out all information on -- for just one example -- sexually transmitted diseases. Serve with a side article about the "fun" and risks of "sexting."


You mean "fun" like five years in the state pen on a child-pornography rap if someone forwards an explicit photo to a buddy?

IT TAKES some doing to make prior restraint seem the lesser of evils, but the staff of the North Star just may have pulled off something special here.

No, after
reading this morning's Omaha World-Herald article on the complete lack of professionalism (and good taste) at the North Star -- produced, regrettably, as part of the school's journalism curriculum -- you won't want to be organizing a First Amendment campaign on the students' behalf. Besides, there's also this.
The Omaha North High School journalism teacher has been disciplined after the principal stopped distribution of the March edition of the student newspaper.

A copy of the North Star viewed by The World-Herald included a four-page “In-Depth” section about teens and sex.

The main headline: “Life on the Sheets. Everyone has hormones, but learning how to control them is what matters.”

Articles and graphics focused on sex drive; masturbation; the district's pro-abstinence human growth and development curriculum; the fun and risks of sexting; and how to put on a condom, using a banana in step-by-step photos. Each article was written by a staff member.

There was no mention of the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among young people in Omaha and no perspective from teen parents or from teens committed to abstinence.

The main photo, taken by a North Star staff member, shows the back of an unidentifiable female, with her partner's hands reaching around her to remove her bra.


Nelson said that the school has a “very diverse student body” and that the material would have been offensive to some North students and their families.

Aerts is “back in the classroom,” Nelson said. She declined to elaborate on how the teacher was disciplined, saying it was a personnel matter.
JOURNALISM ISN'T just about freedom of the press. Journalism is equally about the obligation its practitioners have to their public . . . and to the truth.

If the World-Herald writers have kept faith with
their public and gotten this story right, it's pretty clear North Star staffers violated the trust of the North High audience. And if the March issue of the North Star actually had gotten into the hands of the Omaha North community -- too many of whom know first-hand the serious repercussions of "Life on the Sheets," repercussions the newspaper staff apparently couldn't be bothered to investigate -- that breach could have been even more significant.

Prurience plus sloppy reporting equals misinformation. That's serious matter . . . and serious journalistic malfeasance.

The right to freely put pen to paper -- or type to page, or pixels to a computer screen -- is a lot like the sex act. It is exhilarating. It can be great fun. It is of great import. It is the exercise of tremendous power. It can be an act of love. It can be a wonderful, joyous thing.

Holy, even.

And it also can be exercised irresponsibly, thereby becoming the immediate cause of great pain. Great injustice. Even, you might say, of great evil.

Sex isn't exactly rocket science, despite its potential to blow up in your face if misused.
Ditto for journalism. There are important prerequisites for engaging in either, but they are pretty basic.

The lack of maturity exhibited by the would-be "journalistic" exhibitionists of the
North Star, however, reveals a bunch of snot-nosed kids who obviously have no business experimenting with either.

No comments: