Entering a new year means the return of an important day for student media: Student Press Freedom Day. Celebrated on Jan. 29, the day recognizes the 32-year-old ruling of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which ruled that student journalists have less First Amendment protections than professional journalists. This ruling has been seen as a downturn of free speech to student media and student news outlets. It prioritized the need of formality over the need of important information. As a result, reporting for the student body is silenced.
As the world of journalism is evolving with the advancement of technology, the need for free speech in student press is as important today as it was 32 years ago.
To some credit, times have changed in a new generation since that ruling. A lawsuit was born out of articles discussing divorce and teen pregnancy. The inclusion of online media has provided more opportunities for the student body to connect and discuss campus issues. It has also allowed the introduction of new clubs and has allowed various student organizations to engage. We even have a university gaming club now, which is a great advancement considering that the Dungeons & Dragons game was once perceived as a game of Satan worshipers.
However, the limits of student journalism have been quite detrimental in a time of changes and events. In the recent events of the #MeToo movement, it has not been student publications, but outside sources and social media that obtained the information of on-campus sexual assaults. In a 2017 report by The Daily Helmsman, the University of Memphis student newspaper had an article admonished by President M. David Rudd due to the reporting of two rape cases, in spite of the reporter going through several professors before publishing the article. In some cases, universities such as the University of Kentucky have sued their own school newspapers for the investigation of on-campus assaults in 2016, turning the focus from assault survivors to whether or not students should “shut up and learn.”
The right to publish accurate and important news should not be hindered so freely and willingly. Issues of the national and international sphere are not only important, but they are also necessary in this age of greater connection through media and technology. Events as small as the opening of a new restaurant in downtown Hammond or the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival have significance, as well as major events, such as the upcoming presidential election. The ability to report it should not be sidelined for the mere sake of saving face.
For this Student Press Freedom Day, I would like to see a bigger push for free speech for student publications to freely report stories, even the ones are considered controversial. For a world where thoughts are considered harmful or stories that are considered too damaging of image, the best medicine is to shine light on that subject. Students should be able to gather sources and be able to make a report without being shouted out by administration. The best solution to solve issues is to recognize that there is a problem. Letting these issues and these discussions not see the light is more of an issue than receiving administrative backlash.