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EDITORIAL: Protect student journalism

EDITORIAL: Protect student journalism

Student journalists do important work, but face many challenges
EDITORIAL: Protect student journalism
Photographer: Shutterstock

There are journalists on the front lines of important reporting that are being obstructed and thwarted by the powers they’re investigating.

We’re not talking about the ones in Washington. We’re not talking about the ones at your rapidly disappearing local papers.

We’re talking about the fine work of student journalists on college and high school campuses.

Professional journalists in our country struggle every day to overcome the obstacles politicians put in front of them to keep them from getting to the truth. 

Student journalists and their advisers often face even greater obstacles by administrators and student governments, who are often equally as secretive and reluctant to release information.

The challenges of student journalists are compounded by parents, students, donors, public officials and government oversight agencies, who might not feel as compelled to cooperate because they don’t consider them to be “real” journalists because of their relative inexperience and their connection to their schools.

But make no mistake, student journalists on college and high school campuses are doing “real” journalism and performing a legitimate public service, and they need to be protected from unnecessary and illegitimate interference.

One essential bill (A3079/S2297A) to ensure that student journalism is allowed to operate freely is the Student Journalist Free Speech Act.

This act would protect student speech at educational institutions unless such speech is “libelous, an invasion of privacy, or incites students to commit an unlawful act, violate school policies, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.”

The bill is designed to protect freedom of the press for school-sponsored news organizations by ensuring student journalists the autonomy they need to do their jobs.

One bill pending in the Legislature (A8647/S6690) that works against student journalists would allow parents and students to opt out of providing information such as photos and addresses of students. 

On the surface, this seems to be a basic privacy protection. But not only could this law make it difficult for student journalists to get information, but for future colleges and employers to access even basic information about students, including college majors, degree information and even weights and heights of members of sports teams. This bill extends privacy protections too far and should be defeated.

Student journalists are doing important work for their communities, and they deserve the public’s support.

That means giving them the freedom to do their jobs unimpeded by unnecessarily restrictive rules and legislation.

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