Local students participate in walk-out (we think); media blocked from events.

March 14, 2018

Local students participate in walk-out (we think); media blocked from events.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Students at local high schools participated in a national walk out today — at least we think they did. The reason why I say “we think they did” is because the media was denied access to the walkouts.

Before I go any further, I want to say that my core philosophy of covering news is that the media is supposed to remain on the sides and not become part of the story. But, like this walkout itself, this story is the exception.

When our reporter arrived at Mason County Central High School this morning he was greeted at the door and told that he would not be allowed into the “walkout” that was taking placing in the school gymnasium. He found out later Marilyn Carey of Ludington addressed the students and talked about her daughter who was involved in a school shooting. Other media outlets reported that access was denied at Ludington High School as well.

When I asked MCC Superintendent Jeff Mount the reason behind denying the media access, I was told that it was a decision by public safety and school attorneys. Yet, when I spoke with Sheriff Kim Cole, he said it was a decision made by the local superintendents.

Mount said there were several reasons behind the decision: “Safety of our students. Privacy. And, control of a potential major disruption to our learning environment.”

Only three media outlets showed up at MCC, including MCP, the Ludington Daily News and TV 9&10 News, all news agency that are familiar organizations to the school. Mount said that there could be no guarantee who was coming from the media so a decision was made that everyone was allowed in or nobody was allowed in. This really sounded to me that some attorneys who know nothing about our community gave some really bad advice and were worried that in the off chance things got out of control that the media would capture the moment.

A simple solution to this could have been to communicate with the media outlets ahead of time and ask that they register in advance. Another simple solution would have been to use good old common sense judgement. This is pretty common for events like major political rallies.

Whether you agree with the walkout or not, it was a national event that deserved local news coverage. Parents also had the right to know what the students heard and saw at this event, and that’s the role of the media. It’s rather ironic that this walkout was supposed to be an exercise in students expressing their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, while the members of the media were denied their First Amendment rights of freedom of the press.

The local media has always had an outstanding working relationship with the schools. We gladly show up and promote the positive things that the students are learning in the schools. Just in the past week I have covered two school plays, a project learning project that involved the entire MCC seventh grade class, and a high school culinary arts class getting ready for competition. However, a positive working relationship requires cooperation and trust on both sides, and also requires the school administration to understand that its function is not to control the message — after all, it is a public entity, funded by tax dollars.

I also believe that the schools “locking down” during this time was an abuse of that procedure. There was no evidence that these “walk outs”, which were extremely controlled, caused any security risks to the students or the public, the heavy police presence at the schools helped soften those concerns anyway.

As a comparison, our reporter covering the “walk out” at Shelby High School was allowed full access to the event. Her attendance didn’t seem to disrupt the learning experience for the students.

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