Many high school and college newspapers have a reputation of being watered-down, safe and unremarkable in their reporting. How many times must we read about the long lines at the Bookstore when a new semester begins? This isn’t necessarily the fault of the writers and editors, or even the advisers.
The major roadblock to publishing edgier stories at the public school level has been administrators afraid their institutions might be cast in a negative light. Some administrators have gone to great lengths to ensure that controversial stories remain out of student newspapers and they’ve done so in a rather under-handed way.
While school papers are protected under the First Amendment — which protects the freedom of the press — many administrators have punished advisers for publishing controversial stories. This loophole has resulted in several advisers being demoted, or even fired from their positions, forcing them to squash edgy stories.
That’s why recent passage of California’s Journalism Teacher Protection Act is such a victory for student newspapers and, for that matter, all advocates of the First Amendment. The new state law, which went into effect Jan. 1, protects any school employee from being demoted or terminated for ensuring free speech practices.
It’s a shame that many student journalists have been silenced by censorship. We forget that the youth of today are tomorrow’s future; their voices are important in shaping our future and vital in telling our past.
Free press represents probably the greatest liberty America has to offer; one we take for granted. Manipulation and censorship of the media not only violates our basic rights of expression, but also makes us no better than the totalitarian governments we deem as threats.
Our hope is that the law will encourage student newspapers to report on all relevant issues, even those that may be controversial. Regardless of their age, it is a journalists’ responsibility to report on all news, good and bad, that is interesting and relevant.
Suppressing the ability to tell a story because it may cast a negative light on the institution is an absolute violation of the First Amendment. Even worse is that so many advisers, many of whom are journalists, were made to be skapegoats. How can advisers teach their students to be ethical journalists when they are forced to censor?
The new law should not be used as a platform for angry students to slam their schools because it’s the cool thing to do. Any descent adviser would quickly shoot down an article that was written with vicious intention.
The media, even at the K-12 level, is a powerful form of communication and can wield great influence. Students should learn to respect this power and not take advantage of it. It’s easy to understand why many administrators fear giving that power to a young person.
The Constitution, however, does not discriminate against age. A sophomore student who feels it necessary to write an article about the substandard food preparation at his or her high school cafeteria should be able to write about it because it’s an important issue to fellow students and the larger community. No administration, whether high school, community college, university or political office, has the right to exercise prior restraint.