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It’s a new year – spread your reporting wings against censorship

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As school begins, I can’t help but be excited about the coming year for my students.

Our newspaper, The Smoky Hill Express, has great plans to abandon the usual scholastic soft coverage of clubs and newsletter events and tackle more important news this year. In our budget are plans for features on alcohol sales to minors, our special ed students, and eating disorders.

Our yearbook, The Smoky Hill Summit, is coming off a great content year that included same-sex couples, teen pregnancy, drug use, and overcoming obstacles like prior arrests and childhood illnesses.

Every year, my kids are geeked and ready to spread their reporting wings and see how they can tell the story better than they did the year before.

But, I know not every adviser and staff share our enthusiasm. Far too many scholastic publications face pressure to stay away from these “hard” topics. And, while many advisers and staffs don’t realize it, this pressure is thinly veiled censorship.

Whenever an agent of the government – any paid employee of the public school system – tries to control the content of a student publication, either by explicit rule or casual pressure, this control is censorship.

Far too often, I hear student reporters tell me, “We could never cover that in our book or paper.”

If your publication is truly a student-run publication, then the students alone control the content decisions for that publication. Anything less is censorship.

So, as your staffs begin their training, budgeting, and reporting, make sure they know their rights. Students do not have to cave to the pressure of their administrators to produce only soft, light coverage. There is no “off-limit” topic for your students, and every story can be reported responsibly and well.

Some resources for you in this endeavor can be found on the Scholastic Press Rights Commission home page at www.jeapressrights.org and the Student Press Law Center at www.splc.org.

Carrie Faust, MJE

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