The First Amendment is not so construed as to award merit badges for intrepid but mistaken or careless reporting. Misinformation has not merit in itself; standing alone it is antithetical to the purposes of the First Amendment as the calculated lie… The sole basis for protecting publishers who spread false information is that otherwise the truth would too often be suppressed. Supreme Court Justice Byron White
As often happens thinking and learning about a topic leads me to deep thoughts on where we go from here, how we are the creators of our own future. Thus, reflecting on a recent post about Constitution Day (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/we-the-people-celebrate-constitution-day-by-learning/) led me to reflect on our role as individuals on whom the Founding Fathers depended to meet their high expectations – specifically, 21st Century economic, technological and political challenges that re-order the historic relationship between government, the press – and “we the people.”
As is their way, my thoughts turned to what comes next – Who and what forces will work to preserve the inalienable right to know? What are characteristics, the status, the working environment of the nation’s journalists? And thus I found myself wondering what are the influences on aspiring journalists, what is their training, and what will lure a fledging seeker of truth to risk a life as a professional journalist?
Clearly, these concerns were shared by those far wiser:
- William Anderson, writing in the July 11, 2017 issue of The Nation, offered a clarion call to action – to teachers, student journalists, academic institutions, journalists of every stripe: https://www.thenation.com/article/student-journalists-are-our-future-we-should-start-treating-them-like-it/
- In February 2017 John J. Miller of the AAUP, writing in the Wall Street Journal, raised similar questions: https://www.wsj.com/articles/whos-afraid-of-student-journalists-14865970
- And the Washington Post has mapped the rights of student journalists here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/05/what-protections-do-student-journalists-really-have-check-your-state-on-this-map/?utm_term=.f65625b639ac
Moreover, the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Committee has produced a resource guide specifically related to Constitution Day 2017. http://jeasprc.org/2017-constitution-day-lessons/. In fact. the Scholastic Press Rights Committee is an information mecca of essentials. The Committee has published a video intro and links to new materials, lessons learned and timely resources on the rights of student journalists.
Other timely resources include these:
- An article by Matthew Smith on the “importance of independent active press” focuses on the Constitutional rights aspect of student journalism focuses on the local scene: http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/05/06/your-right-to-know-state-should-protect-student-journalists/
- The Journalism Education Association report entitled “Promoting Scholastic Press Rights Legislation: A blueprint for success” is exactly what the title suggests, a comprehensive blueprint for action. This is thorough and timely review of the rights of student journalists, steps to be taken in a student press rights action plans, related organizations that support student journalists’ rights, sample laws and recommended language. One essential feature of this resource is an excellent listing of related organizations, historical information about past legislation, and the names of experts who can offer opinions about legislative language.
- The JEA also hosts a robust website, http://jeasprc.org that features a unique “Tools of Truth Landing Page” that covers current topics related to student journalists’ rights http://jeasprc.org/tools-of-truth-landing-page/
- The Student Press Law Center, established in the post-Watergate era, now headquartered in Virginia, focuses on the legal rights of high school and college journalists: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Student+Press+Law+Center&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
- The National Scholastic Press Association (http://studentpress.org/nspa/), located near the campus of the University of Minnesota, “promotes the standards and ethics of good journalism as accepted and practiced by print, broadcast and electronic media in the United States,”
Constitution Day 2017 inspires us to take a long view of a free press. To do so demands that we get a better sense of what’s happening in student journalism. Some indicators are close at hand:
- The Raben Group, in collaboration with the March on Washington Film Festival, sponsored a Freedom’s Children Student Journalists Competition. The results of the student journalist competition were showcased at a film festival in Washington DC in July 2017. http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org/freedoms-children-student-journalists-competition/
- Glamour magazine published this thoughtful essay by student journalist Marjorie Kirk in the April 2017 issue: https://www.glamour.com/story/im-a-student-journalist-and-ill-never-stop-fighting-for-the-freedom-of-the-press
- The Society of Professional Journalists sponsors an annual essay contest open to high school journalists. The results of the competition are posted on the SPJ website. Read this year’s winning essays here: https://www.spj.org/a-hs.asp
In high schools and colleges throughout the nation young journalists are tackling major issues of social justice, civil rights, press freedom and the right to know. Their rights demand attention and deserve recognition.
“I became a journalist is to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”— Henry Luce
IMPORTANT UPDATE: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/aug/28/Student-Journalist-FOIA-Grant/