When you see a student running across the football field to gather their interviews or getting caught in a mob of hyped students at a pep rally while they are trying to take pictures, you are looking at student journalists hard at work reporting the news. Every day, these students dedicate themselves to their community by reporting the truth that people need to hear.
This past month, Virginia lawmakers have been working on a bill, House Bill 36, that will finally allow student journalists to exercise First Amendment rights. Last Wednesday, it advanced through the sub-committee.
If this law were to pass, it would be a major stride toward finally recognizing student journalists as legitimate contributors to the Fourth Estate, those who keep the government and public affairs in check and transparent to the citizens. According to the Student Press Law Center, only 14 states have freedom of the student press under the “New Voices” legislation. Virginia could be the 15th state on this list; although I wish it could have happened sooner, this is beyond exciting for me and Virginia student journalists everywhere.
As an editor of a student paper, sometimes I feel as if my staff and I have to tiptoe on eggshells just to avoid the risk of censorship. At times, we have refrained from writing sensitive articles in fear of what administration might do. Although we will still follow the code of ethics in minimizing harm in what we publish, this bill would allow us to write freely and on an equal playing field to our local newspaper counterparts.
One of the main arguments against the passing of this bill is that students are not mature enough to report on the news appropriately, and we are not “real journalists,” we’re only being taught how to be one. In response, lawmakers must understand that student journalists follow the same code of ethics as professional journalists. Additionally, without administrative control, we are not left without any guidance at all. We have our advisor, our peers and other teachers who are there to support us.
Lawmakers may think that they’re protecting us and our audience by keeping a tight leash on us. However, they are only teaching us that our viewpoints are unimportant if the school thinks they are wrong or inappropriate. Instead, schools should be teaching students to be independent thinkers and explore today’s pressing issues. How can they do that if they are hiding the truth for student readers, and quieting the voice of student writers?
The passing of this law would be a crucial piece to student journalists asserting their valid position in the world of the press. We are not just children, we are student journalists, real journalists, with something to say. We have a voice, let us use it.
Editor-in-Chief, Falconer, Fauquier High School’s student newspaper