Killian Johnson

Everyone’s voice can make a difference in a community by displaying different perspectives.

Editorial: Student Journalists ‘Lead’ the week emphasizing the importance of Scholastic Journalism Week

February 24, 2023

This week is Scholastic Journalism Week (SJW) and people all over the world take time to highlight the benefits of journalism. The celebrations start from Feb. 20-24 and there are themes for each day. Metea journalism students plan to honor SJW with one correlated activity per day.

Journalism gives people a voice. It also informs people- which gives them even more to say. It allows those who do not have an outlet to share their stories. As student journalists, we give teenagers a platform to share what they believe in. Oftentimes, teenagers are belittled and made to feel like what they say does not matter. Student journalism is our way of fighting against that notion. 

Teenagers are intelligent and worth listening to. The Stampede and other media outlets give students a chance to speak. Without the ability to do so, nothing would ever change. 

This week is dedicated not only to acknowledging what student journalists do but also to the importance of journalism as a whole. Our society would be uninformed if journalists did not take the time to report accurate and current information.

Unfortunately, despite the significance of this week, we see a consequential decline in local journalism throughout the nation. This leads to a less-informed and less politically literate community. 

According to Nieman Lab, Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, and his administration guided legislation to pass publishing legal notices in newspapers last year. As a result, this law is becoming increasingly common in the industry. In Sarasota County, they announced this January that they would reduce the publication of many legal notices in papers such as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

DeSantis attacked “legacy media” that engages in “partisan activism” to propose his idea for the Florida Legislature. As we have seen his immense desire since 2021, DeSantis hopes to pass a law to make it a more simplistic and effortless process for people to sue news organizations on claims of defamation or a false statement that can damage one’s reputation. While this law can prevent opinions from altering one’s name, as a whole, this law can be detrimental to the journalism industry.

Zoning into a school setting however while the vast majority of censorship incidents reported to Student Press Law Center (SPLC) are resolved without publicity. Schools such as Northwest High School in Grand Island, Nebraska are just one of the many student censorship examples. This is just one example to show why both Scholastic Journalism Week and Student Press Freedom Day are crucial for advocacy and support within the next generation of student journalists. In this scenario, student journalists at the Viking Saga student-run newspaper spoke to SPLC attorneys through the legal hotline to acknowledge their school administrators’ restrictions made against chosen names and pronouns in the students’ bylines and articles. They also highlighted to SPLC how student-produced stories particularly focused on LGBTQIA+ issues were frequently being censored. 

While Saga continued to publish articles regarding LGBTQIA+, the administration willingly shut down both the newspaper and journalism programs because the published content  was labeled “inappropriate.” As a result, Nebraska discovered a newfound need for New Voices legislation in the state. That particular legislation would ensure student journalists’ editorial independence to tell important stories without fear of censorship as seen with Saga.

As all censorship examples express the necessity of press freedom, students need to continually advocate for the right to publish accurate information. Although the first amendment right in the constitution prevents the right to freedom and speech from being prohibited, journalists are still being censored.

Even though censorship is divided into three specific categories: direct, indirect, and self-censorship, we see the consequences one can face through challenging societal norms. Direct censorship is commonly seen in a school scenario such as a school official demanding an article to be pulled immediately as in prior restraint or after publishing. Indirect censorship typically showcases the removal of the ability to report due to budget cuts after content gets attention for example. As for self-censorship, this conveys fear in journalists without actual threat or punishment to publish.

However, if you are censored, the SPLC guest speaker, Hillary Davis, at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention this past fall emphasized the importance of asking for a reason for censorship. “You cannot be censored for no reason.” You have appeal rights permitting you to deny the first no.

There are several operations committed to preventing censorship within scholastic journalism. For instance, the SPLC is a non-partisan operation that commits to both the first amendment rights of students and the free press rights of student journalists and their advisers. As SPLC will help with the prepublication review, they continue to advocate for all student journalists to be able to express themselves without censorship to showcase their philosophy.

Another crucial enterprise includes New Voices, which is notable for its actions to protect student press freedom within state law. As this nonpartisan movement is student-powered, the activist group repels the influence of the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision on society. Under Hazelwood, the administration can censor student work for a reason “reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical concern” according to Davis. While under New Voices, student press freedom means school administration may not censor your output as a student journalist unless you publish unprotected speech.

Illinois is one of 16 states who are a part of the New Voices campaign. The remaining 15 states include Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Missouri, Kentucky, New York, and West Virginia. All of these states share strong advocates in subjects such as law, education, journalism, and civics who hope for schools and colleges to become safer areas for student voices under the campaign.

Overall, as journalism plays a fundamental role in our community, it is important that we protect the right to publish accurate information. Journalists are committed to sharing the accurate truth with the world and they should not be silenced.

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