Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Louise Seals, SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter president, 804/649-6000 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — Woodbridge High School officials should immediately drop charges against a Virginia reporter who was arrested for asking questions apparently too tough for a school principal.
Kelly Campbell, reporter for The Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger newspaper in Virginia, was arrested last week and charged with misdemeanor trespassing after an interview with the high school principal abruptly ended. The charge, if Campbell is convicted, is punishable by up to a year in jail.
"We hope that this was a one-time error of judgment that won't be repeated," said Ray Marcano, SPJ President and an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "Journalists should always be treated with professionalism and respect as they go about their jobs of informing the public."
Campbell was arrested after principal Karen Spillman halted an interview about a controversial biology class project. Campbell said she was not given an opportunity to leave peacefully before a school resource officer removed her from the building, arrested her and took her to the county lockup. Police said the reporter would not leave the school until physically removed and justified the arrest to local media.
"Our reporter was caught off guard by the principal ending the interview. Her surprise made her hesitant to just walk out the door," said Susan Svihlik, executive editor of The Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger. "Expressing surprise and hesitation is not against the law, nor is it trespass. It's a shame that Kelly ended up behind bars just for trying to do her job, and it's especially a shame that such a thing happened over what was supposed to be a fairly simple story about a school program."
Campbell is scheduled to appear in court July 31, and the newspapers have hired an attorney for the case.
When arrested, Campbell was interviewing Spillman about a biology project in which students took ducklings home to see if the baby ducks would learn to follow students as they do a mother duck.
"Members of the public don't know that many newspapers work at maintaining solid professional relationships with the agencies they cover. That was the case in Prince William County, where both the school system and the police department have a history of working with the news media," said Louise Seals, SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter president and managing editor of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. "In that spirit, we would hope the parties could resolve this short of court. But if not, Virginia's SPJ pro chapter will be solidly behind Kelly Campbell. A reporter has to be able to ask questions without fear of being arrested."