Metea Valley High student journalists move on from censorship debate
Two student journalists at Metea Valley High School in Aurora say their work was censored when administrators prevented them from airing a broadcast story about a new restaurant because of footage showing alcohol.
But student reporters for "The Mane," a show that airs every two weeks, say they've made their case and it's time to move on.
Instead of continuing to push to air their review of VAI's Italian Inspired Kitchen + Bar or taking legal action, reporters Triya Mahapatra and Laurel Westphal say they're on deadline and focused on their next stories.
The issue with the video review of the Naperville restaurant arose late last month. The day before "The Mane" was set to air Sept. 28, administrators informed student journalists they would need to remove about eight seconds of background footage showing alcohol from the story -- which ran 1 minute, 38 seconds -- before it could run.
"There were some gratuitous shots of the bar, bottles of alcohol, drinks being mixed and drinks being poured," Principal Darrell Echols told student publication Metea Media in a story that ran Friday. "We felt that it was not in line with our school philosophy and our district philosophy because the students that we serve are ages 14 to 18 and not of drinking age. We didn't feel that part needed to be accentuated in that video, and so we asked them to edit that."
The episode containing the VAI's review was held one week. On Friday, the rest of the episode ran, but students cut the restaurant review.
Mahapatra, Westphal and fellow student journalist Nate Burleyson, program director of "The Mane," say they saw nothing wrong with the shots containing alcohol and were surprised the administration had concerns. Westphal said she's willing to accept the decision.
"I don't think that either of us want there to be any huge backlash because of this," she said, referring to herself and her reporting partner, Mahapatra. "It's ridiculous, but we don't need to continue taking action."
The students plan to be on alert to ensure the administration does not keep restricting their content in ways they find unfair.
"It was a blow to our rights as creators and student journalists," Burleyson said. "We understand that, but I don't think any of us want to go to court."
Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board President Mike Raczak said the administration's response was "reasonable"
"Considering the audience and our policies, I do not think we need to highlight the use of alcohol to our students," he said.
Burleyson said Echols has offered to visit the broadcast journalism production classes that create "The Mane" to explain the decision.
"I didn't censor anything. You may call it censorship. I don't," Echols told Metea Media. "I call it maintaining the integrity of our programs."
Burleyson said students haven't accepted their principal's offer.
"We don't have time for that," he said, "because we have another 'Mane' to produce."