Her curled blonde hair bobbing as she walks down the English hall carrying stacks of graded papers, Katie Meyers hums a song that has stuck with her for more than 29 years. ‘I’m alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic,’ she repeats, reminiscing on the jingle her high school journalism adviser H.L. Hall once sang to his students every day. A song that kept students positive in 1988 through the turmoil of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier court case and again in 1990 during the controversy over a Planned Parenthood advertisement. A song that Hall left as a reminder for students to embrace their rights as journalists and to be enthusiastic while doing so.
“Thinking back, I feel like my life has been punctuated by two of the supreme court cases related to journalism,” Meyers, KHS English teacher and 1988 KHS graduate, said. “I was born the year of Tinker v. Des Moines, and I was editor-in-chief of [TKC] the year of [Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier] so it was a really interesting time to be [a student journalist].”
Along with Hall, who served as the KHS publications adviser from 1973 to 1999, Meyers said she relied on KHS administrators and the First Amendment to support her reporting. With a staff of around 25, Meyers pushed for accurate journalism, keeping her adviser’s emphasis on journalistic integrity in mind.
“[The First Amendment] is what journalism is all about,” Hall said. “I always put the word ‘responsible’ in front of freedom of speech [and] freedom of expression. That means accuracy. I trusted [my students] and they trusted me. That’s a relationship that had to be there. The accuracy, fairness and integrity [in student journalism] is so important. They needed to know what they were doing.”
According to Hall, his presence in the journalism building not only shifted the attitude of the publication, but he also changed the values of his students. He said that prior to his arrival, TKC was notorious for making up quotes, creating problems within KSD and the Board of Education.
“When I [started teaching at] KHS I was unwelcome,” Hall said. “I came from [advising the newspaper at] NKMS, and the department chair came up to me the very first day and said ‘We do not like your predecessor and we see absolutely no reason why we should like you.’ I had never even met [her] before. I did not have an easy time to begin with. It took a while to convince everyone that my students were going to report fairly and accurately and that if they did make a mistake they would correct it.”
Despite the rough initial transition, the lessons Hall introduced have stayed within KHS’s journalism department, according to Meyers. She said his positivity throughout his tenure was what gave her and her peers the motivation to continue reporting and to take advantage of the administrative support her staff received. While other schools faced constant censorship in their publications, former KHS principal Franklin McCallie stood behind TKC’s rights.
“We were aware of what was going on [during Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier], but it was so different [at KHS],” Meyers said. “We had administration that was so supportive with Franklin McCallie. He loved the media. He always thought the best way to quell a rumor is to print it, get it out there and talk about it. He had an open-door policy with us and expected everyone else in the community [to] support our student publications.”
Hall, along with TKC’s editors, made the decision to accept and print a Planned Parenthood ad in August 1990. According to McCallie, a tremendous amount of people deemed the ad unfit for a school newspaper, sparking controversy in the halls of KHS and in the Kirkwood community as a whole.
“[Those who disapproved of the ad] made it an abortion issue, but that wasn’t an issue for the staff,” McCallie said. “The student staff made it an issue of whether or not they had the right as student journalists to accept an advertisement from a legal organization, and they decided they did. That’s what I supported. I supported the students and H.L. Hall all of that year. There was a tremendous hullabaloo [and] arguments but some people said it was the greatest year for student rights and student press that they’ve ever seen at Kirkwood or throughout the country. It was wonderful [and] a great stand.”
Though he retired from his position as adviser in 1999, Hall furthered his support and passion for journalism as president of the Journalism Education Association (JEA) until his term expired. His 50th and last JEA convention was in fall of 2014, but the association continues to honor him by labeling the yearbook adviser of the year award in his name. Now, Hall splits his time between playing tennis, writing in the daily journal he began in 1960 when he married his wife, Lea Ann, and evaluating student yearbooks and newspapers. Since starting in 1975, he has judged close to 6,000 publications. He said journalism changed his life completely, and that he could not imagine his everyday life without it.
“I’m alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic,” Hall said, remembering the chant he once sang to his students every day. “I went into the service in 1961 and they made me public information officer, which put me in charge of the unit newspaper. That’s when the journalism started for me. That’s when I caught the bug. And the bug is still there.”