Letter to the Editor: Westside Journalism Alumni Respond to Wired Editorial

Westside Journalism Alumni respond to a Westside Wired editorial published on Feb. 17.

Mina Testolin

Westside Journalism Alumni respond to a Westside Wired editorial published on Feb. 17.

When we read the Westside Wired editorial in response to a Superintendent email, we thought the students made a convincing case to support their headline: “District 66 Superintendent’s Email Misrepresents Student Journalism.” We then read a letter to the editor written by a social studies instructor that lays claim to a journalism program alum’s perspective. We thought it important that readers hear the perspectives of other alums as well.

We are a collection of alums whose experience with the journalism program spans the tenures of multiple advisers, principals, and superintendents. We are thankful these students are standing up for the principles we learned as student journalists: the importance of truth, ethical reporting, and pursuing stories to inform readers, regardless of whether some find their topics controversial.

We are incredibly proud of the years we spent on the staffs of Westside’s many publications. Our experiences taught us to be better writers, problem solvers, and leaders. The skills we learned have been instrumental in our educational and career successes across fields: research and higher education, medicine, business, law, etc.

These lessons were enabled by ownership over the stories we published and the accountability to our classmates, teachers, and parents that came with it. This was a formative experience for us as young people made possible by Westside’s exceptional journalism program.

But the journalism program does not, by default, exist as exceptional. It became that way, in large part, because exceptional administrators prioritized the clear learning experience of student-led editorial processes over vague liability concerns. We applaud those administrators, and urge this set of administrators to follow their lead.

Ultimately, the Westside students who advocated for LB88 at a legislative hearing on Jan. 29, 2021, were right to do so. LB88 is like legislation already passed in many states, including Nebraska’s neighbors Kansas, Colorado, and Iowa. It would do away with the present confusion by guaranteeing student publications across Nebraska the ability to operate as Westside journalism had operated for decades prior to August 2020.

Critically, LB88 helps protect school districts and administrators in ways prior review cannot. Prior review only serves to place administrators in a position that vexes even behemoth tech companies like Facebook and Twitter: that of content moderator. As the social studies instructor wrote, student publications are not professional news outlets — nor are school administrators professional content moderators. Let us, as a community, show we do not expect them to be. 

We hope other readers will join us in supporting Westside’s journalism program and LB88. Each of us is excited to hear perspectives and willing to answer any questions other readers might have about these topics, from the history of the Westside journalism program to the Hazelwood Supreme Court precedent. Our virtual door is always open: [email protected]. You can also join us in supporting the students immediately here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfl2ns0bmzJn2KptY8T804ZXWUuaYT6zZ_MNdtTd34WKCLvww/viewform.

Hannah Amrollahi, ’11                          Samantha Juster, ’11                         Libby Seline, ’17                      Lance, Westside Wired, Shield            Lance                                                 Lance

Connor Flairty, ’15                                Aren Rendell, ’15                               Courtney Strayer, ’15 WTV, Lance                                                   Lance, Westside Wired                      Shield

Zane Fletcher, ’13                                Lea Rendell, ’11                                 Kristen Van Putten, ’06          Lance                                                   Lance                                                 Shield

Jenna Hynek, ’16                                 Victoria (Toria) Rendell, ’06                                                                Craze                                                   Lance