Pre-publication review of all John Carroll newspaper articles required, principal confirms

Four days after the new semester started at the John Carroll School in Bel Air, and under the guidance of a new moderator, journalism students were given “Guidelines for The Patriot” school newspaper Friday morning.

Under those guidelines, according to a copy provided to The Aegis Friday, all articles for print and online “must be approved by either the Principal or the Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications.”

Allison Hall assumed the role of moderator of the school newspaper on Jan. 16, the first day of the second semester, after former moderator Mark Ionescu was told Jan. 2 he was being removed from the position. Ionescu is still teaching AP English and journalism at the school, but is not involved with the school’s newspaper.

Principal Tom Durkin, who gave the guidelines for The Patriot to the students, said when he arrived at the school in June, he was told the guidelines had been in place for years.

“It’s nothing new,” Durkin said Friday.

Betsy Campion, chair of the board of trustees for the private Catholic high school, said Tuesday that prior review has been in effect at the school “for many, many years.”

“But that’s all I know. I’ve never seen anything, it’s never been discussed other than the policy was there for a long time,” Campion said.

She said she doesn’t know if or how it was used — “[the board] has no involvement in that area” — and declined to comment on the use of prior review regarding the newspaper.

“This approval process is in no way a means of censorship. Articles in The Patriot have sparked valuable discussions about important topics, and these guidelines and approval process are not meant to change that,” Durkin wrote in the one-page guidelines document. “However, as the publisher of the content in the print and online forms of The Patriot, the school has the obligation to ensure that articles in The Patriot are not damaging the reputation of The John Carroll School.”

While the guidelines policy has been in place, there’s a question as to whether it has been followed, he said.

Some have said ‘yes,’ some have said ‘no,’” Durkin said in a phone conversation Friday. “Some of the alumni said if there were stories of concern that could be inconsistent with the mission of John Carroll or the teachings of the Catholic church, they would often discuss with the administration prior to print. But as a practice, I don’t know how well it was actually followed.”

Former Patriot editor-in-chief Caroline Cooney, who graduated from John Carroll in May 2017, said Tuesday that in her time with the school’s newspaper, no content was ever reviewed prior to publication by anyone in the administration.

At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, she said, the administration “tried to create a prior review policy, but The Patriot never practiced one.”

After several rounds of back and forth, the administration backed off and never brought it up again, Cooney said.

“I don’t think it was ever practiced or ever enforced,” Cooney, who was also the paper’s managing editor as a junior, said.

She said she sees the guidelines as the school trying to portray itself in a positive light.

“I think they basically want to use the newspaper as fluff, to talk positive about the school and not challenge the school or any of its policies,” Cooney said.

Another former editor-in-chief, Martha Schick, who graduated from John Carroll in 2013, doesn’t recall the paper being held to review guidelines.

She wrote her first article for The Patriot as a freshman during the 2009-2010 school year, took an introduction to journalism as a sophomore, was a managing editor her junior year and one of the editors-in-chief as a senior during the 2016-2017 school year.

“I can tell you based on my own experience and conversations I’ve had with other former staff members that despite him saying prior review was already in place, it’s never been addressed directly to students before,” Schick, a part-time reporter and web producer for The Boston Globe, said Friday. “And these specific restrictions have never been put in place.”

Durkin, who has been principal since June, said no articles were brought to him last semester before being published in print or online.

Ionescu’s supporters, who include former students and current members of The Patriot staff, have suggested two stories as the impetus behind Ionescu’s removal as moderator.

One was about a painting in a student art exhibit depicting two gay couples kissing that was removed before a school open house and then put back on exhibit after the open house.

The painting, done by senior Nicole Kanaras, showed a male couple and female couple together in front of a gay pride flag. It was removed from a display in the art wing on Oct. 26, two days before John Carroll’s open house Oct. 28. It was put up again Oct. 30, according to the Nov. 8 article.

The Patriot article quoted Durkin: “According to Principal Tom Durkin, the painting was removed because it could make prospective students and families uncomfortable. ‘At Open House, we invite people into our home. We want to make sure things are clean and straightened up. We didn’t want things out that may bother someone,’ he said.”

Durkin said he was interviewed for the story about the painting, but he did not see the article before it went to print.

In the other article published Dec. 7 and titled “#metoo,” John Carroll students, who weren’t identified, discussed experiences with sexual assault.

Reporters conducted an anonymous survey, answered by 196 students, 8 percent of whom answered that they had been sexually assaulted, according to the #metoo article. The story was written in response to the growing number of allegations of sexual assault nationwide, especially among celebrities.

Among the comments provided was one from a student who said: “It’s a lie. No one has been raped at John Carroll, just a bunch of stupid people who consider [things] they regret later ‘sexual assault,’ ” according to The Patriot.

Another responded that “I was unconscious at a party and was touched inappropriately. The only way I knew it happened was through a video,” The Patriot wrote in its article.

As for the #metoo story, Durkin said if he had seen it beforehand, he might have asked that the article include resources for students to turn to, if they have been victims of sexual assault.

Durkin said it remains to be seen what happens should he or the director of strategic marketing and communications find an article not appropriate for publication.

“Nothing has come up to that point, so I can’t speculate. We are a Catholic school, obviously we have certain beliefs. If we had an article that promoted pro-choice, I’d ‘say we can’t print it,’” he said.

Durkin was asked: what if an inappropriate article somehow got published?

“We’d deal with that when it happens,” Durkin said.

He reiterated that the policy has been “standard operating procedure” and that the removal of Ionescu and naming a new moderator was a personnel decision.

“The whole issue isn’t about censorship or the newspaper. This particular issue is a personnel issue,” Durkin said, although he wouldn’t elaborate on the personnel issue.

Is reviewing articles before they’re published censorship or is it a philosophical argument, he asked rhetorically.

“How do you censor that which you own? We own the newspaper,” Durkin said. “William Randolph Hearst owned newspapers. Did he censor them, or did he control the content?”

Students at John Carroll are free to express their beliefs, but not in the school newspaper, Durkin said.

“I’m not interested in violating students’ First Amendment rights. They can preach what they want,” Durkin said. “If they want to go post on social media, or go work for a newspaper independent of the Catholic church, that’s well within their right.”

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