The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

More Student Journalists Have the Right to Write

on May 16, 2016


Today I am re-posting another article from the blog of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) because I think it contains good news for public education. This piece was written by  Alana Rome, an English teacher and newspaper advisor who will soon move on to becoming a journalism teacher in Montvale, New Jersey.

 Although school newspapers in  several states already have 1st Amendment rights, there is still a long way to go. My hope is that other states will follow their example, giving to student journalists the same rights that professional journalists have.

In preparation for the Journalism Education Association’s Certification for Journalism Educators (CJE) exam last week, I brushed up on various aspects of media law and ethics, including what (and who) is protected under the First Amendment. Through this amendment, the government promises to protect and respect citizens’ freedom of religion, speech, assembly, petition, and, most important for journalists, press. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, which may vary from state to state. Invasion of privacy (public disclosure of private and embarrassing facts, intrusion, false light, and misappropriation), libel, copyright, obscenity, and disruption are various forms of unprotected speech.

On April 26, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that guarantees scholastic and collegiate student journalists protection under the First Amendment, even if the publication is financed by the school or created as part of a journalism class. In the past, such a publication was more likely to be restrained through prior review (administration can view content prior to publication).

Whether this bill makes every scholastic publication in Maryland an open forum is unclear, but it most certainly gives more voice and freedom to the students and more protection for the adviser or journalism teacher. The line between fulfilling the responsibility to inform the public and releasing potentially damaging or controversial information, at least in the eyes of administration, can be a tenuous one. However, this fight for rights shows just how much student words matter. They matter because student journalists typically provide the most in-depth coverage of school events. They matter because a student publication represents the culture of the school. They matter because they are being fought over by politicians and legislatures. They matter because they can make or break a teacher’s career.

Several other states, including Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Alabama, and Minnesota, have similar active bills as part of the national New Voices movement. My home state, New Jersey, has yet to pass such a bill; according to New Voices’ website, the New Jersey legislature was scheduled to discuss the matter on January 12, but no news has been released since. Let’s hope we see more states looking to support the rights of student journalists and their teachers in order to protect and foster journalistic integrity for the next generation of writers.


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