This developing situation in Nebraska shows exactly why we need student press freedom:
With just two days until Student Press Freedom Day, a situation brewing in Nebraska underscores exactly why this important day exists. For more than 40 years, students at Westside High School in Omaha have earned the reputation for producing independent, award-winning journalism about their community. But in 2020, the school district began to enforce prior review for the first time, assigning an administrator to review every article before publication. Now, students say, their work is affected by delays in approval, a feeling that they are working as public relations agents rather than journalists, and self-censorship that is harming their work as reporters.
Earlier this month, five Westside Journalism students advocated before the Nebraska state legislature for a New Voices bill that would override Westside’s prior review policy. Just a few days later, the school Superintendent sent out an email to all students, staff and parents regarding “rumor control for student journalism.” In it, he minimized the damaging impact prior review is having on the journalism program and referenced that the prior review policy was not new. But that's misleading: although the policy had been in writing for decades, it had never been enforced until last year.
In an effort to set the record straight, students with the journalism program penned an editorial challenging some of the superintendent's claims and condemning the prior review policy. According to students, administrators temporarily censored the editorial, which prompted the resignation of their veteran journalism advisor, Jerred Zegelis.
As the student journalists stated in their editorial response published a few days ago, “If Westside Administration truly cares about their award-winning journalism department, they would allow it to publish content as a public forum for student expression, like it has been for the past 47 years, following journalistic standards and holding itself accountable.”
We wish stories like this one were rare, but student journalists are too often forced to conduct their reporting against incredible odds. That’s why our theme this year for Student Press Freedom Day is Journalism Against the Odds. Still, student journalists persevere and produce an essential service to our communities.
Please see the links below to learn how you can get involved with Student Press Freedom Day. Supporting First Amendment rights for student journalists is a critical democracy issue.
With appreciation, Hadar Harris
Great Ways to Take Part in Student Press Freedom Day:
Screen the documentary Raise Your Voice: Student journalists are getting free exclusive access to the film, which follows the student journalists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they navigate their school mass shooting as both survivors and journalists. Register and you'll be emailed the link tomorrow (Feb. 25). Watch anytime between Feb. 25-27 and feel free to host a watch party through Zoom (or join SPLC's!) Register now.
Join the Student Journalism Forum! Come join the Student Press Freedom Forum to talk with fellow student journalists from across the country, student-to-student, about the best parts of being a student journalists and the challenges you face. Sign up now.
Be creative! Plan an event or create content for Student Press Freedom Day and be sure to tell us about it.
Here are some sample social posts you can use to spread the word:
For #StudentPressFreedom Day, student media are getting three days of exclusive free access to stream Raise Your Voice, a documentary about the student journalists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Register now: https://bit.ly/2OPkgHP
Join student journalists across the country for a town hall conversation Thursday Feb. 25 @ 8pm ET about what #StudentPressFreedom means to you, what you overcame this past year & how we can strengthen student press freedom moving forward. Sign up here: https://bit.ly/3aOoVRF
Student journalists, like professional journalists, provide an essential service and should be fully supported as they deliver vital news on issues of concern to the public. Join the movement this #StudentPressFreedom Day 2021. https://bit.ly/3aqAUo9