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Stop being afraid

by Cyndi Hyatt
The media is under attack.  Although friction between the press and the President is nothing new (John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon all had a cantankerous relationship with the press) this current labeling journalists as the “Enemy of the People” has far reaching effects that may even trickle down to student journalism.

In an era of fear and uncertainty, high school and college students are afraid to express themselves openly because of the possibility of making someone else feel offended or uncomfortable or of fueling heated debate or of being accused of faking the news.  

Most students are hyper aware of their speech these days, afraid of unintentionally triggering a reaction that could be uncomfortable or even retributory. Even student journalists who are trained how to recognize bias and offensive speech can still tentative when covering stories.  

Language is a hard thing to navigate in 2018 and the additional pressure of press-bashing doesn’t make the waters any easier to travel.

What’s the result?  A fear that student journalists are now self-censoring.  Instead of relying on sound judgement, discussion and ethical decision making, too often I have heard students caution themselves against a story because it will make their peers mad or cause discomfort.  

Or they second guess a story idea because it may get themselves or their advisers “in trouble.” Their fears are fueled when they see what happens to journalists like CNN’s Jim Acosta for posing a question to the President or when The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs is body-slammed by a Congressman for asking a question about health care.  

Bullies are intimidating and create fear, but at some time we have to stop being afraid and take action.

So what are student journalists to do?

Stop being afraid and instead rely upon what educated journalists have always done.  Be fair, be ethical, and be honest.

At school, don’t shy away from stories that matter to your community.  Some are certainly to be controversial but if you cover them through fair and unbiased reporting, by minimizing harm and maximizing good, by exercising your protected First Amendment rights you should be able to defend your decisions without fear of retribution.  

Those 45 words carry a lot of weight.

Young journalists are key to maintaining and defending a free press now and in years to come.  Don’t be su-press-ed, be THE press and speak up and speak out by telling the stories you should tell.  

Stop being afraid; the Constitution has your back.

 

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