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Student expression shouldn’t be foreign to journalists


Not My King Signs and chants of Abolish Monarchy filled the Westminster area In London, England May 2, 2023. Even in democratic countries, some protestors could face penalties even for a peaceful protest. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona for

To appreciate our freedom of speech and freedom of expression, travel abroad. Unfortunately, there are those in this country who think freedoms of expression need to be controlled, especially when they are extolled by students.

by Stan Zoller, MJE

Imagine having to leave your homeland to express yourself.

The mere thought should make you appreciate the fundamental freedoms available to people, let alone journalists, in the United States. Unfortunately, however, there are those who think freedoms of expression need to be controlled, especially when they are extolled by students.

The rights of student journalists play a role far greater than reporting news, sports, voicing opinions or reviewing movies.

Student media is community journalism and the stepping stone for civic engagement. It’s why New Voices laws are more important than ever before.  Student journalists provide the first steps for civic engagement through their coverage of their community – their school where students learn about the First Amendment, learn about the importance of democracy and learn why it’s so important.

What’s needed is a greater understanding why it’s so essential to let students practice and appreciate what they learn.

At the end of her show, MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour”, Nov. 28, host Stephie Ruhle made a pitch for “Giving News Day,” for Americans to support news organizations through donations or even the purchase of subscriptions.

Why? Her walk-off summed it all up. Ruhle told her viewers this simple message, “An informed public makes for a healthy. journalists are key when it comes to getting students civically engaged. Transparency, attribution and good old-fashioned reporting are the grassroots. A key to strong community media is to, wait for it, cover the community. 

Beyond coverage of school organizations, teams and activities, student media has a responsibility to cover those entities that impact the school community. Number one on the list should be the school board and its committees because they are ground zero – where policies and procedures that impact everyday school operations start.

Students are allowed to attend school board meetings and have access to all records from board and committee meetings, as are all citizens. As I have advocated before, sunshine and freedom of information laws should be part of any school’s journalism curriculum. While they may not impact private schools, learning the process is essential to all journalists. Student journalists should also cover local, county and state legislators as well. Laws, ordinances and resolutions passed at each level can either set the tone, or directly impact citizenry, including the audiences that make up a school’s community.

As is the case with any media, student media is the voice of the community.  Using public records, in-person coverage and well-documented attribution, the opinions of student journalists can be valuable tools for getting readers civically engaged.

Thankfully, more states require schools to teach civics in junior high or middle schools, as well as high schools. One can hope school administrators are cognizant of the fact a free and responsible media is essential for citizen engagement, especially at the high school level. 

Efforts to impede student journalists should be challenged for one very good reason. How can schools teach civics while putting the damper on a free and open student media?

            If this happens in your school, remember what I’ll call the “Ruhle rule” — An informed public makes for a healthy democracy.