On October 23, 2013, the student staff of the Playwickian newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, published an editorial announcing its decision to cease using the name of the school’s sports teams, “Redskins.” Their decision, motivated by concern over the name’s racist connotations, prompted a move by the local school board to institute a policy giving school administrators greater editorial control over the newspaper. The following September, the Playwickian’s adviser was suspended for 2 days and its editor-in-chief was suspended from the newspaper for 1 month; school administrators also cut US$1,200 from the student newspaper’s budget.
In seeking to ban the name, the Playwickian staff joined a national debate over racially inspired team names that has touched every level of sports, from local schools to the professional. For example, the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL) and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, have been the focus of a sustained appeal to adopt a new name. That campaign has drawn national media attention, with a number of outlets banning use of the term “Redskin” and high-profile journalists calling for change.
This study is of theoretical interest because it expands the scope of boundary work research by looking at discourses of inclusion rather than exclusion. What is notable is that student press legitimacy is granted by explicit or implicit comparison with the rights and responsibilities of adult professional journalists. This study underlines the durability of notions of journalistic professionalism, routines, and autonomy such that the same kind of discourses used to exclude in other cases are used here to include.
A Pennsylvania high school newspaper published an editorial in Fall 2013 announcing its decision to cease using the name of the school’s sports teams, Redskins. That decision prompted the local school board to institute a policy giving administrators more editorial control over the newspaper. The controversy resonated with U.S. professional journalists, who followed it as it developed. Using the theoretical framework of journalistic boundary work, this qualitative textual analysis of 94 news articles identifies three main responses: references to professionalism, praise for sound practices, and highlighting the students’ free press rights.
What’s in a Name? Journalistic Boundary Work and a High School Newspaper’s Effort to Ban “Redskin”
Marina A. Hendricks1, Ryan J. Thomas2
First Published 31 Dec 2017
Journalism & Mass Communication Educator