A New Voices bill that supports student journalists is back on the agenda for the 2018 Indiana General Assembly.
People ask me why I’m still working on this bill after my recent retirement from the Indiana High School Press Association. Although this effort isn’t about me, my 46-year career as a journalism educator explains my passion for the bill.
I was seeking my first teaching job in 1971 when I was offered a position teaching English at Mooresville High School. In addition to sophomore English classes, it included a journalism class and serving as adviser for the biweekly high school newspaper. Although I had a communication minor that included journalism, I had little experience actually working with a newspaper staff.
Despite my lack of experience, the principal told me not to worry with the comment, “The kids do all the work.”
It didn’t take long to realize there was a considerable amount of work for everyone to publish a student newspaper every two weeks, and I found that the stress of being a first year teacher had an uptick for me every two weeks.
At the end of the year when I was offered a new contract, my husband asked if I could get rid of the newspaper. With as much surprise to me as to him I said, “No. That’s the best part of my job.”
What I realized in less than nine months was that the writing of my journalism students had improved more than the writing of my English students because the student journalists also learned a variety of editing, interviewing, research, problem-solving, conflict resolution and time management skills as they practiced the First Amendment first-hand.
Consequently, for the next 33 years at MHS, I continued to advise the newspaper staff in addition to the yearbook staff for 23 years and a broadcast team for ten.
In each of these areas, my students were allowed the freedom to report about important stories because administrators supported that effort. In addition to coverage of academics and student activities, student journalists analyzed a variety of teenage concerns as they covered stories about school policies, political issues, binge drinking, drugs, depression, stress, health, suicide, loss of loved ones and STDs.
Even when coverage might generate controversial responses, administrators were good sources for information that could find an appropriate angle for the topics.
Today, administrators at many schools in Indiana support journalism students in the same way, but the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision of 1988 provided language that gave administrators the power to control the coverage, and for almost 30 years some have used that decision to censor anything that might cause their phone to ring with a negative response.
That censorship has led many states to pass New Voices legislation that gives every student journalist, not just those whose administrators are willing to work with them in a positive way, the opportunity to do meaningful coverage that provides information that can inform and improve their school community.
It is important to emphasize that HB1016 does not promote irresponsible practices.
- It fosters respect and responsibility—cornerstones of the society that our students will soon lead.
- It affirms the fact that students guided by certified advisers can be the most trusted and relevant source of information to educate their peers and discourage risky behaviors. (My experience is that student reporting can literally save lives.)
- It encourages a patriotic approach for civic duty. Journalism has been fundamental to democracy since the founding of our Republic. Studies show that student journalists become engaged citizens.
As the 2018 legislative session evolves, advocates for HB 1016 will be telling some of the real stories that celebrate student journalism with the hope that new legislation will encourage all administrators to work with student journalists as they explore topics that challenge them and improve their schools as they learn to respect the power and responsibility of the First Amendment.
My journalism colleagues and I appreciate all the effort IFCL lobbyist Bill Chapman has provided to make connections with legislators and promote this valuable bill for a second year.
Citizens who value scholastic journalism specifically and the First Amendment in general are encouraged to contact their state legislators by phone or email to share support of HB 1016.