Student journalists have 1st amendment rights, too

To the editor:

A free and independent press is the most important pillar in preserving the American republic. That has been understood since the nation’s foundation – as journalism is the one profession specifically protected in the Bill of Rights.

I developed a passion for the craft because of the guidance and influence of great educators. It sparked a fire that changed my life, as that passion became my profession.

For the second consecutive year, the Indiana General Assembly had an opportunity to preserve and protect that right of free speech and an independent press for high school students, with the introduction of the “New Voices” bill. For the second consecutive year, it was inexplicably not passed. In 2016, it passed the House with 88 votes but was not heard in the Senate. This year, it failed with just 47 “yes” votes.

I commend Rep. Sean Eberhart for voting for student free speech. Unfortunately, Hancock County’s other representative, Bob Cherry, declined to vote in favor of students.

A free student press is important. The classroom is a laboratory for students to learn and develop real-world skills, and that happens every day in high school journalism. My students – and those at hundreds of high schools across Indiana – are developing, researching, writing, photographing and editing stories for publication each week. Their work informs, entertains and enhances our school school communities.

Good journalism requires pursuing stories that will occasionally be uncomfortable, and those stories are precisely what this bill intended to protect.

The bill’s opponents — the state’s principals and superintendents associations — falsely claimed that it would remove a school administration’s control over the content coming from the school.

Journalism is not public relations. High school journalism is a place for students to learn real-world skills while telling stories of interest to their fellow students. They can only do so with a truly free press.

As a publications adviser, I am thankful our staffs have a very good relationship with our school administration, but many of my colleagues do not have the same courtesy. Because this bill did not pass, students can have well-researched, well-reported stories important to their communities spiked simply because an administrator finds the story uncomfortable.

In the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling, the United States Supreme Court said students do not “shed their constitutional rights of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” It’s unfortunate the Indiana state legislature instead moved to try to strip those rights from Indiana’s student journalists.

Andrew Smith

Former sports editor, Daily Reporter

Educator/publications adviser, New Palestine High School