A report on hypocrisy

Chanse Ford

Webster’s defines a student as “one who studies or investigates” and journalism as “the work of gathering news for, or producing, a newspaper.” Yet the state of student journalism in the United States sadly reflects a loss of core values.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hosts its annual World Press Freedom Day May 3. For the first time since U.N. General Assembly recognized the day in 1993, this will take place in the United States.

The “holiday” focuses on the worldwide abuses committed against the journalists, editors and publishers informing their communities. Abuses such as censorship, prison sentences and even execution fall on those reporting the news.

While the United States government may not have executed many reporters of late, jail time still haunts many professional journalists at home. If you don’t believe me, just look up the cases of Joshua Wolf, Jim Taricani or Vanessa Leggett.

Even though professional journalists feel the weight of such injustices, the group of journalists stifled most are student journalists.

The case of Hazelwood is only the start of a long list of efforts to suppress the writings of student reporters found distasteful by their schools.

Ironically enough, cases involving student censorship or the dismissal of student journalism advisors from their jobs appear in the news all the time.

Advisors lose their positions because students report on sensitive issues high schools and their administrations dislike or find “too controversial.” This only occurs when stories actually get past prior review.

Much of this can be traced back to the Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Judges ruled in 1988 against the group of high school journalists who wrote pieces about teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce, but were censored by their school’s administration.

The ruling essentially stated student journalists do not have the same rights and freedoms guaranteed to adults, and that schools have the right to censor pieces as long as it is educationally justifiable.

I worked on my high school newspaper for three years, one of which I was Editor-In-Chief. During those three years it was always like stepping on eggshells (forgive the cliché).

The paper never ran anything remotely controversial as to not anger any of the administration of the school board until I attempted to report some relevant issues my senior year as editor.

I distinctly remember trying to write a piece on my school’s drug testing policy and feeling the suffocation firsthand.

I only interviewed the assistant principal in charge of the program. That was it. There was no feedback from students, positive or negative, and the assistant principle received a copy of the story before it went to print.

How can students “study or investigate” what it means to be journalists when the basic aspects of the profession are suppressed?

Based on personal experience, the best way to learn how to be a journalist is hands-on. Yet most students are lucky to have one hand on.

The United States stands to mock the very essence of World Press Freedom Day if it continues to let the rights of its young journalists be taken away.