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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Honoring Student Press Freedom Day

Photos from various stories covered by The Hawk. PHOTOS: LUKE MALANGA ’20/THE HAWK

Student-run media organizations are celebrating Student Press Freedom Day on Jan. 29 around the U.S.

The day was created by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) to celebrate the work done by student journalists across the nation as well as bring light to the censorship they may face from their schools and/or advisors. 

Student media tends to get overlooked by people in authority,” said Frank LoMonte, professor and director of The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and former director of the Student Press Law Center. “Student reporters are sometimes the last to get their phone calls returned, they’re the last in line to get press credentials, they’re interrogated about why they want public records and how they plan to use them. Having a day of awareness devoted to the value of student media should cause people in power to think twice about how they’ve devalued student journalism and how we’d all be worse off if it disappeared.”

The SPLC website says the organization celebrates this day because “For more than three decades, far too many student journalists have been censored by image-conscious school administrators, or intimidated to self-censor or not report on ‘controversial’ topics that matter to their peers and community.”

January is the anniversary month of the Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which determined that the student journalists’ First Amendment rights were not violated when their principal censored their newspaper “teen issue,” which featured articles about teen pregnancy and divorce. 

According to the SPLC website, “Hazelwood remains one of the most influential student speech cases, greatly expanding school control over student speech.” 

Student journalists are still facing these censorship problems 32 years after the Hazelwood case.

Samantha Ruvalcaba, former news editor for The Rattler at St. Mary’s University, a Catholic university in San Antonio, Texas, said her newspaper staff asks for all interviews from reporters so they know they aren’t “stepping on the university’s toes”

We even have to send the drafts of our articles to the different departments that are in the article just so that they have a bit of an overview to make sure we are publishing what is correct by their definitions,” Ruvalcaba said.

Ashley Bowden, co-editor in chief of The Pioneer at Long Island University Post, a private university in Brookville, New York, said she faces gag orders at her university, meaning the university tells employees not to talk to the newspaper about certain issues with fear of being disciplined or fired.

“All these sorts of things are going on and [labor employees] are afraid to tell me on the record about it because they fear for their jobs,” Bowden said. “‘If I tell the media this, I’m going to get fired’ is the overall mindset at my university.’”

What makes things more difficult for Bowden and The Pioneer staff is the fact that they no longer have an advisor, who taught their journalism class, after she got fired at the start of the fall 2019 semester.

“Now we have these new students who don’t have a qualified professor teaching their course and are spending thousands of dollars to take this course to get nothing from it,” Bowden said. “We don’t have any professional help. We don’t get paid. We do it because it’s a community service, and our budget is continually shrinking.”

LoMonte said student newspapers are becoming more important in communities today as local journalism has to cut costs, meaning student journalists may be the only reporters in school board or city council meetings.

“We all have a stake in the quality of student journalism now because we all depend on students to bring us the news, sometimes without even realizing it,” LoMonte said. “Ten years ago, a census of state capital bureaus around the country found that one out of every six reporters covering state government news is a student, and that number has only gone up since then. So it’s more important than ever for students to have the confidence to bring us honest, uncensored coverage of state and local government.”

Zach Dobinson 22 contributed to this article.

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