Student journalists' coverage of COVID-19 is more important than ever

As local journalism shrinks, student journalists' role of informing their communities becomes even more important, especially in this time of crisis over the coronavirus outbreak. Not only are students reporting on issues of extreme importance to the student body — things like how study abroad students will get home, which parts of campus are closed, teachers and students who've tested positive for the virus and more —they're also addressing the big questions of the community at large. Things like:
This work has gained much-deserved national attention and praise.

Take this story from The Chicago Tribune:  Chicago’s student newspapers in coronavirus mode: ‘It’s weird, reporting on scrambling to find housing or to get back home, when it affects us as much as anyone.’ SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris was quoted in the story saying, "student journalists are creating the record of this moment for their generation. They’re doing so while they’re still learning their craft. And they’re doing it bravely.”

Or this one from The Washington Post: Their college year upended, Gen Z journalists keep breaking news on coronavirus (some from home)

To bring attention to student coverage, SPLC has collected news stories from more than 100 high school and college publications and will continue updating the list as this outbreak unfolds. Check them out (and see how to get your publication added to our list):
Coronavirus stories


Similarly, SPLC is working to highlight yearbook spreads about the pandemic. Yearbook staffs face the unique challenge of not only documenting things like canceled sporting events, proms and virtual graduation ceremonies, but figuring out how to produce, sell and distribute yearbooks when normal processes aren’t possible. Their work is recording this moment in history.
Coronavirus yearbook spreads

SPLC's Coronavirus Toolkit

SPLC has created resources to help you protect your newsroom and understand key legal issues while reporting on the coronavirus. It contains a letter reminding administrators student media is an "essential service" as defined by federal guidelines, plus guides for fighting censorship or other threats to your program, covering the coronavirus, managing your newsroom remotely and teaching online.
See the toolkit

Q: I’m being told that federal HIPAA law limits my ability to report on COVID-19 cases. Is this true?

No. While HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) may limit the information a medical provider can provide about specific, identifiable patients, its restrictions only apply to those who have a “duty of care” to a patient. Journalists have no such duty of care. Where you lawfully obtain information (iie. you’re not trespassing or aiding/encouraging others to do so) HIPAA cannot be used as an excuse to limit your reporting, though, of course normal invasion of privacy rules still apply. It’s also important to note that HIPAA does not restrict government or medical officials from providing purely statistical information about the number of cases, tests, deaths, etc., attributed to the virus as long as it contains no information that personally identifies someone.

See previous Ask SPLC answers

Help us recognize courageous student journalism

Nominate students by May 22, 2020 for SPLC's high school journalism and college journalism awards to recognize exceptional efforts in fighting for student press freedom.
Entry details

Support SPLC

High school and college news organizations can show their support for SPLC's legal hotline and other core services by becoming a member. Your individual donations help us defend the rights of student journalists and their advisers across the country. 
Copyright ©2020, All rights reserved. Student Press Law Center.

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