No country for young pen


Cayla Vanderzanden

Regardless of student journalists’ limited rights, they continue to put forth maximum effort, doing their absolute best to become professionals.

The argument has been made countless times; the never ending debate: should student journalists be granted freedom of press? Aren’t they people too, don’t they deserve the same rights as professionals? Unfortunately, it is not possible nor is it plausible to grant student journalists the same rights and leeway in regards to censorship as professional journalists have. Students are, after all, merely students, only amateurs in the world of journalism. “The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. For to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves – and the better the teacher, the better the student body” – Warren Buffett 

The First Amendment of the United States claims “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. This amendment prohibits government officials from suppressing speech, but it does not prevent the censorship of speech at public schools. This decision was made in the Supreme Court Case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier during January 1988. The ultimate decision upheld rights of public high school administration at Hazelwood East High School in Missouri, allowing them to censor stories the journalism department wanted to publish, specifically concerning teen pregnancy. The past 15 years prior, court decisions had always sided with student journalists, granting them First Amendment protection. However, during the Hazelwood case it was made clear that the overall opinion of the Supreme Court was that public school students didn’t have the same rights of the adult journalists in alternative settings. Currently, if the school can present a legitimate argument as to why certain censorship is needed and that the content will cause a “material and substantial disruption” to students than censorship can be enforced. However, there is a specific way around this censorship. Student publication. A student publication is one where school officials have granted student editors permission to make their own decisions regarding content. This enables students stronger protection under the First Amendment.

Professional journalists, under the First Amendment, have several specific rights. They have the right to have free access to all sources and to ask about public events. Additionally, they cannot be forced to express any opinion contrary to their own. As professionals they have experience, financial independence, and legitimate careers as journalists. Student journalists have minuscule experience, are not writing as a career choice, and are doing this occupation under school guidelines and with the instruction of a teacher hired by the school itself. For this reason, it makes sense that they wouldn’t have these same rights. Student journalists often lack the credentials for the claims in which they make. They are granted a one period class each day, which is not enough time to discover ground breaking news nor receive extensive and college level training. Student journalists need to learn all of the intricate aspects of being a journalism before having ultimate freedom. However, this is not to say student journalists are uneducated or have a lack of seriousness about their job. The jobs of student journalists are still vital, whether or not they are slightly censored, as I myself am a student journalist.