By: Julie Pike, Editor-in-Chief
I’ve been advocating for the rights of student journalists ever since I became Editor of the Free Press last February. As my time at USM comes to a close, so does my ability to push for more rights for student journalists. However, I remain hopeful that my fellow staff members at the Free Press, as well as students across the country, will keep up the efforts.
Last week CNN published an opinion piece written by Neha Madira, a high school student and editor of her school’s newspaper. She had experienced censorship from the school’s principal, who chose not to print three articles because they “cast the school in a bad light.”
But Madhira didn’t just sit back and let this happen, she spoke up about it. Along with another staff member, Madhira spread the story of what happened at her paper and got the attention of news outlets nationwide. It even led to a TED Talk she gave a few months later. In turn, the principal ended the ban on editorials and allowed the newspaper to publish them again.
Madhira is one of many students across the country who are speaking up and taking action for the rights of student journalists. Historically, there have been very few cases involving student speech, and even less regarding student publications, so there are limitations in terms of legal protections.
Currently 36 states follow the standards set forth from the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case in 1988. In this case a school sponsored newspaper had two articles censored by their newspaper because they did not have a “legitimate pedagogical concern.” The Supreme Court supported the principal’s decision, saying that schools were not required to support particular types of student speech.
The other 14 states have higher protections for student journalists due to New Voices, a student led movement aimed at protecting student journalists by passing state laws. Maine is not one of those states.
Madhira is currently fighting to get those protections in her home state of Texas. She’s been working with the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit organization that works to defend the rights of student journalists.
2019 has been declared “The Year of the Student Journalist.” There are currently 11 active campaigns to pass the New Voices laws in more states, the most they’ve ever had in one year.
The Save Student Newsrooms movement has continued since its creation last year. On April 25, student journalists around the country will publish testimonials and editorials to push for their college’s administration to create an agreement or policy guaranteeing editorial independence. Even though the students who first created the movement have graduated, those still in school have taken on the job for them.
A former student journalist from the University of New Haven just recently launched the nonprofit College Media Group. He and other volunteers are working to provide students with resources to help their publication, including financial, moral, ethical and educational services. Each staff member has experience in college media and are passionate about helping future students in their work.
It’s the increase in efforts to protect student journalists, and the work of students like Madhira that make me hopeful of the future to come for student journalists.