Controversial Content

Eli Gordon, Editor-in-Chief, Print

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On the day the newspaper comes out, I feel equally excited and nervous. Every issue, I’m thrilled to be sharing our hard work with the school community. But as I sit in class, I anxiously wait for the feedback I know is inevitable: Why did you choose to cover that controversial topic? Why did you mention students breaking school rules through stick and pokes or fake IDs? Why did you write about subjects that are challenging to hear, like economic privilege or environmental degradation? Why did you publish an article that makes Urban look bad?
Sometimes these questions make me doubt our decisions as a newspaper. What’s the point of writing about things to which people react strongly?
It takes me a moment to remember that that’s precisely the point. At the Urban Legend, we publish articles because we believe they’re worth talking about, and productive conversations are often rooted in strong feelings. Through our reporting, we attempt to complicate the conversations people may already be having, and expose our readers to voices and perspectives different from their own. From issues as international as the #MeToo movement and the climate crisis to topics as specific to Urban as the HIPE survey and equity in the classroom, The Urban Legend has worked to be at the forefront of the Urban community’s discussions.
Here’s the truth: when we see a pressing issue in the Urban community, our first instinct is to investigate it. But as a newspaper in an independent high school, we do not have complete control over our own content. We are limited by the Student Handbook, which outlines the rules for publishing content within Urban: “Advanced work dealing with controversial issues,” the handbook reads, “must be more than a mere reflection of the controversial content as it exists already… students must push into what is controversial, to critique it, transcend it, express their ideas and expand the viewer’s understanding.”
The administration uses these criteria — which also apply to the Yearbook and the performing arts department — when deciding whether to allow us to report on a controversial topic. However, we take issue with the notion that a reflection cannot do justice to a complex issue. News, in its essence, is a reflection of the facts. Outside of the opinions page, we as reporters do not critique the issues at hand or express our own perspectives. Instead, we aspire to produce neutral, unbiased reporting.
Our own opinions don’t transcend what’s controversial — the Urban community’s conversations do. Every issue, we see people engaging with our content, be it through talking with friends about an article or submitting a formal letter to the editor. We watch as our community wrestles with the complex, often uncomfortable issues we choose to elevate to the forefront of Urban’s discourse.
It is not our goal to sweep any issue under the rug when it is affecting members of our school community. While we recognize the challenge of discussing sensitive issues within our school, from JUULing to racism to party culture, we work to overcome it. We hope that our work of gathering diverse voices, making sense of disagreements, and discerning truth can serve as a foundation for the conversations we hope this school will engage in.
The Legend staff — like the rest of the Urban School — is guided by the core values. One, in particular, speaks to our work: We “embrace diverse backgrounds, values and points of view to build a strong, inclusive community.” As a publication, we know that it can be hard to hear perspectives different from one’s own, but we believe it is our duty to gather a wide range of voices and share them with the school.
To us, a strong, inclusive community is one that willingly acknowledges its faults, opens itself to diverse and contradictory perspectives, and, more than anything, engages in challenging conversations. It’s the kind of community we strive to build with every story that we publish.