Student journalists are more vulnerable than ever before, and it’s time for professional media to step in and help, student press freedom advocates said during their Excellence in Journalism session Friday afternoon.
In an effort to give more authority to student media, the nationwide New Voices campaign is going state by state to help introduce anti-censorship legislation that will grant extra protections to student journalists.
“One of the keys to having this legislation in place is that it’s supporting students to get the kind of job training they need, but it also helps students — even those who won’t enter the journalism field — learn how to evaluate and analyze media in a world full of untruths,” said Sarah Nichols, president of the Journalism Education Association. “Students don’t get the experience they need if someone is telling them, ‘Here’s what you can do,’ ‘Here’s what you can’t do.'”
The New Voices movement was inspired by a success in North Dakota, where, in 2015, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill that ensured free-speech rights for journalism students in public high schools and colleges. Since then, four other states have passed similar legislation. Considering student press freedom laws which previously existed in California and Oregon, a total of eight states have now adopted such student protections.
“We’re struggling in several states where principals and school administrators are lobbying against this kind of legislation — many times they think it could be damaging for them, or they don’t want certain stories to be published,” said Frank LoMonte, director of the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.
“But it’s important to recognize that students are already seamlessly integrated in the media world today,” LoMonte said. “They aren’t just the future of journalism — they’re the present of journalism.”
To date, 16 states have active New Voices campaigns and are still in the process of moving legislation through state legislatures. The remaining 21 states have inactive campaigns or no campaigns at all.
The Student Press Law Center tracks state-by-state laws and pending campaigns, and Indiana, Washington and Missouri are considered the most likely to pass New Voices laws next. Although legislation can take years to pass — if they pass at all – Megan Fromm, JEA’s educational initiatives director, said progress is more likely to be made when the professional media supports the initiatives.
“When we look at the states where legislation was passed successfully, we see support from a wide variety of stakeholders, especially from the media,” Fromm said. “There has been a notable media absence when covering New Voices, and we want to see that change.”
Fromm said media professionals should consider publishing editorials about New Voices legislation and give more attention to the progress — or lack thereof — of state campaigns.
“We can’t afford to not have meaningful, substantial coverage of what’s happening,” Fromm said. “It’s the best thing journalists can do.”
Additionally, professionals are invited to serve as mentors for high school or college students as a part of the SPLC’s Active Voice program. Shine Cho, an intern at SPLC and former Active Voice fellow, said the program helps students better understand their First Amendment rights. By having access to mentorship from media professionals, Cho said students are also more equipped to take on more challenging stories at their schools.
“Students want to have your support, whether that’s by having it through from the work you publish, or from the mentoring you can provide,” Cho said. “Without it, we’re preventing students from being able to tell stories that need to be told.”