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Shared anecdotes can help New Voices legislation

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Students Jackeline Loya Gomez, Haley Stack and Neha Madhira share their short, intermediate and long-term plans for the Texas student free speech legislation with an adviser and students from Pennsylvania during the New Voices Training Institute Oct. 13. Steve Listopad (holding the flip chart), instrumental in such legislation in North Dakota, serves as a mentor. (photo by Michael Simons)    

by Candace Bowen, MJE

Just how bad is the censorship that goes on in today’s student media? Could it be, as one administrator said – and perhaps more have thought –, advisers just making mountains out of mole hills?

And what about self-censorship? One principal said, with perfect confidence, “How can you blame us if students assume we won’t let them print a story when they don’t even try?”

Think about that for a minute or two . . .  Isn’t that the whole problem?

  • We are collecting anecdotes about those topics and hope some of you reading this blog will contribute. Here’s a link to a form you and/or any of your students or former students can fill out. A link to the form is also further down in the article.

As more and more states attempt and often succeed to pass student free speech legislation, it’s clear many do believe censorship, both overt and covert, is a major problem. Journalism educators see the problem often – sometimes even with administrators they thought were “on their side.” 

And if that’s the case, it becomes vital that we help each other in any way we can to solve the problem. 

The North Dakota New Voices John Wall Act became law there in 2015, thanks to Steve Listopad, on the journalism faculty at University of Jamestown, and his students. 

Since then, according to the Student Press Law Center, the movement is gaining momentum. Eleven states have introduced legislation, and other groups have been building grassroots support. A section of the SPLC’s website is growing continuously with links to states that are working on bills plus links to resources to help others.

A recent step in that direction had advisers and students from seven states meeting with SPLC personnel and facilitators in mid-October to learn more about what a good bill should have, how to form strategic plans to get one passed and where to can find additional support.

Past attempts have shown that appeals to legislators are strengthened with examples of what students can’t print or broadcast, issues that clearly should see the light of day so students and others can help solve them. Often the administrator’s concern that the topic would make the school look bad takes priority over the chance to improve a situation.

For that reason, we are collecting anecdotes about those topics and hope some of you reading this blog will contribute. Here’s a link to a form you and/or any of your students or former students can fill out. It asks:

  1. Are there any topics or stories you have been told by school officials not to cover? Yes/No

If yes, can you name one?

2. Are there any topics or stories you would like to cover but do not because you believe school officials will censor them even if you have never been told not to cover them? Yes/No

If yes, can you name one?

Good examples of these situations help demonstrate the problem students have being unable to use their voices to make their world better. The more we can demonstrate this, the more likely we will be to defeat Hazelwood with laws that help our students.

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