The Five Freedoms Project

Press

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A guiding mantra for ASCD’s First Amendment Schools initiative is “rights, responsibilities, and respect,” recognizing that modeling democratic principles and educating for citizenship not only requires students know what their rights are, but that they know how to exercise those rights responsibly and respectfully. Perhaps nowhere is the tension between rights, responsibilities, and respect more challenging than with the First Amendment right to freedom of press, when “press” refers to student press.

As noted in The First Amendment Center’s Freedom of Press Overview by Lee Levine, “What we mean by the freedom of the press is, in fact, an evolving concept.” Levine offers an historical synopsis of court cases that have shaped our definition of freedom of the press as “the press” itself has evolved from “pamphlets, political tracts and periodical newspapers” to “daily newspapers, books, magazine, motion pictures, radio and television broadcasts, and now Web sites and Internet postings.”

Levine closes his overview with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2001 reaffirmation of the “fundamental right of a free press to disseminate truthful information about public matters” and the recognition of the landmark 1964 New York Times Co v. Sullivan case that “’freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment’” so that “’debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.’”

That said, Levine’s overview reflects the public context of freedom of press, not the school context. He is clear about this,in fact, stating: In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988), the Court found that high school administrators do not violate the First Amendment when they censor or punish students for the content of their school-sponsored expression, so long as the school’s reason for censoring the student expression is related to a legitimate educational interest.”

First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. elaborates on the murkiness of the public school context in his Overview of newspapers and yearbooks in The First Amendment Center’s resources on K-12 public school student expression, detailing the pivotal 1988 Hazelwood case and the ensuing repercussions of that ruling. Hudson cites H.L. Hall, former president of the Journalism Educators Association’s regarding the pervasive problem of “prior review” of student media, calling it a “lose-lose situation” that undermines those very concepts of rights, responsibilities and respect that we seek to develop.

As Hudson concludes, “Eventually, the Supreme Court may well have to clear up the confusion in the lower courts regarding the Hazelwood standard and the fundamental First Amendment principle counseling against viewpoint discrimination. In the meantime, student journalists and other students engaged in school-sponsored expression must deal with the reality of reduced First Amendment protection in the school.”

The Center for Scholastic Journalism offers a wealth of resources on high school and middle school journalism, ranging from legal and ethical issues to lesson plans, workshops, and contests. CSJ offers J-Wire, where students collaborate on stories for publication and distribution, and receive critique and training from media professionals. Be sure to check out the CSJ Blog! CSJ’s Five Freedoms Network group offers ongoing news updates, such as the JEA’s statement on prior review of student media, and opportunity for discussion with other journalism educators.

High School Broadcast Journalism Project, a journalism education program of Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF), promotes broadcast journalism by helping high schools establish and maintaining outstanding broadcast journalism programs. HSBJ offers a variety of resources, from ongoing contests, “Ask the Journalist,” with a monthly featured journalist (Bob Dotson from NBC is HSBJ’s November journalist), help setting up school-to-station partnerships, forums and other resources.

And, lest you forget, The Five Freedoms Project itself offers lesson plans, FAQs, and 5 Things You Can Do to dig more deeply into Freedom of Press.