"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"

The freedom to speak:
the John Wall Voices Act

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by Faith Harron, sophomore
Century High School
Century Star newsmagazine

sprclogoThe Constitution of the United States guarantees all are created free and equal and endowed with the same rights.

When it comes to journalism, though, many high school and college students are not equal to their adult counterparts.

Some a few in North Dakota are trying to change that. With the backing of representatives Jessica Haak and Corey Mock, a bill was written by college students at the University of Jamestown and introduced it in the House this month.

The current bill, the John Wall New Voices Act, is something different. It would grant student journalists in high school (like me) as well as college limited First Amendment rights to publish school newspapers.

“The John Wall New Voices Act is a wonderful tool to ensure student journalists are provided the same freedoms that professional journalists are awarded thanks to our First Amendment,” said Corey Mock, assistant minority leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives. “Since I had been working on the bill with Rep. Haak since April of 2013, sponsoring the bill was the easiest decision I have made all session long.”

Censorship is akin to blunting a pen, or even writing in invisible ink. What purpose does the story serve if it never sees the light of day? This is sometimes the case when prior review is allowed.

This allows the censorship of “questionable content.”

But who is the judge of “questionable content?” Is it the authorities in the school? The journalism advisers? The students, who have been taught to judge between right and wrong?

Jeremy Murphy was a West Fargo teacher who was fired because there “was a difference in philosophy when it came to student journalism and how students decided content for the publications,” he said.

He was later rehired by the school district and continues to teach journalism with no prior review, and adds “there is probably a fear factor when it comes to a bill on student expression…some people might think it allows students free reign on what they can do.”

However, there are guidelines written into the bill for appropriate student speech. But there are other concerns about the bill.

Censorship and the chilling effect are hard to prove. We can show how…widespread this issue is nationally, and we hope that our legislators will know that we North Dakotans are not immune. – Steven Listopad, University of Jamestown

 

“[A] threat to a bill like this is the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ principle,” said Steven Listopad, the teacher who helped his Jamestown students draft the bill. “Censorship and the chilling effect are hard to prove. We can show how…widespread this issue is nationally, and we hope that our legislators will know that we North Dakotans are not immune. We North Dakotans, just like any other human being, will choose more control over less in any given situation even though when it comes to your right to speak less control is exactly what we need.”

What started as a class project in COMM 412: Civics and Citizen Journalism at the University of Jamestown has become a bill…and possibly a law.

“The John Wall New Voices Act will be heard by the House Education committee this month and hopefully given a ‘do pass’ recommendation before it comes to a final vote on the House floor,” Mock said.

I’m just one high school journalist, and I can’t say I speak for all undergraduate nonfiction writers out there. But I would never consider writing something libelous or obscene. Knowing my peers, I don’t believe they would, either.

It’s a bill. It won’t solve the world’s hunger problems, and it won’t make everyone equal. It probably doesn’t matter to everyone in the world.

But it matters to me, and my peers, and maybe it can help someone share their story. At the very least, it’s a start.

 

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Documenting biodiversity in Chicagoland

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Third in a 10 part series of student journalists Making a Difference

In Carolyn Fritts journalistic writing course, at Glenbard West High School, in Glen Ellyn, Ill., she requires students to a research local topic and produce a comprehensive film documentary as their final exam.

Students set out to discover what happens to Chicago when the ecosystem collapses and what can happen when individuals take measures to protect and promote biodiversity.  “The Loss of Biodiversity in the Chicagoland Area” captures the ravages of urban sprawl.

Biodiversity in urban settings decreases with urban sprawl. Urban amphibians are the first victims. Students looked at how scientists are trying to return flora and fauna back to its most natural state.

This 15-minute documentary shows the devastation to the wild life in the 370,000-acre area in the Chicagoland area and how ecologists work to reverse the devastation. Featuring interviews with naturalists and ecologists, these student journalists tell the story of ways professionals even use fire to restore habitats to clear out the invasive species to help the habitat heal itself.

According to Fritts, the students had to “interview two experts concerning their topic, conduct extensive background research, film footage to supplement the documentary’s narrative, and provide voice overs to incorporate research.”

Making a difference is not just about reporting the intensely controversial topics that surround schools, but searching out stories that impact the environment around the schools. The students at Glenbard High School have done this.

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North Dakota introduces legislation
to protect student expression

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sprclogoWith North Dakota’s introduction of a freedom of expression bill Jan. 19, student journalists in other states might want to know how to work on legislation in their states.

The John Wall New Voices Act is designed to protect student First Amendment rights both public high schools and public and private colleges.

Seven states have passed legislation protecting student expression at the scholastic levels, and Illinois protects college-level speech.

Students or advisers interested in obtaining materials to consider working on legislation can check these resources:

SPLC model legislation to protect student free expression rights
SPLC map and model guidelines for legislation
JEA/SPRC Blueprint for state legislation

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Scholastic journalists often
face demands like Delauter’s

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by Mark Goodman
I strongly encourage every student publication adviser being told his or her students can’t use names or photos in their print or online publications because of FERPA (or some other manufactured privacy justification) to read the Frederick News Post’s editorial on this crazy Frederick County council member, Kirby Delauter, and his demand for media not to use his name without permission.
The parallels between this guy’s demand (now rescinded) and what many high school journalists experience is remarkable.  How do you write about students at school and the public things they do there if you can’t identify them?
Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh said it best (he’s quoted in the editorial):
Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.” You know, that whole First Amendment thing.
Wish we could convey that message to more school officials and their attorneys.
For additional information:
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