Shifting the spectrum of student reporting

Izy Scott, Art Director

Finally. Finally after 225 years of the U.S. constitution guaranteeing the civil rights of freedom of speech and press, Illinois is talking about extending that right to some of the most deserving journalist in the state: high school reporters.

This week, the Illinois House pushed the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act (aka HB 5902) through the legislative process by a 114-0 vote and it will be reviewed by the senate next. The bill does not protect journalists from libeling, slandering, invading privacy or breaking the law (as expected), but instead it protects one of the most valuable assets of a student journalist: his or her voice in a school surrounded by authority.

This bill would grant all Illinois student journalists complete freedom of press without censorship from the school they are affiliated with or funded by, with the exceptions of content aforementioned. LION is already a secured haven of free speech and press, so this law would simply act as a firm guarantee of its right to independently report without regulation from administrators.

Not every school publication is fortunate enough to have this basic right of censor-free publishing, however.

Remember that little Unites States legal case titled Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier back in 1988? You know, that one where the Supreme Court overturned the U.S. Court of Appeals and ruled that it’s okay for school-sponsored student publications to be legally censored? When student journalists of Hazelwood East High School’s paper The Spectrum challenged the censorship of material covering teen pregnancies and divorce, they were—along with every other school-funded publication in the United States—ultimately ruled to have lesser first amendment rights because the school paid for the printing of the publication.

While the Hazelwood administration may have had honest concerns about the articles, the blanket law that followed the case and legalized public school media censorship resulted in all student-created publications in the United States to be inferior to the interests of faculty and administrators. In retrospect, it seems like the U.S. Supreme Court simply used the case to shove young journalists who were bravely walking the hallways of legal injustice into the cold, hard lockers of submission.

Fast forward to 2016 (that’s 28 brutal years of legal censorship, in case anybody’s counting) and finally we see Illinois among states rewriting the historical injustices imposed on student journalists.

Student journalists give voices to the voiceless in their schools, but what happens when you take the journalists’ voices away? Administrations cutting controversial stories and replacing them with school propaganda is one of the greatest injustices a school can do to its students who deserve to read not an illusion of their school, but the truth, no matter how honestly dirty. Let’s face it, no ethical story could be as dirty as the hands of school administrators censoring and denying their students the basic civil right of freedom of press.

Student journalist censorship is happening all over the country, and even to student publications just miles away from LT. So although this law has yet to be officially passed, let me say that finally there is hope for Illinois student journalists to gain their voices back.

This law is about the basic freedoms of press and speech and this law is about ethics, one of the most prominent, honorable aspects of journalism.

It doesn’t matter if you’re reporting on the dime of a school, in the school’s classroom or during school hours, because journalism is about delivering the news objectively no matter the content. Student journalism is about shining a light on school news, not turning it off for the sake of glorification. This Illinois bill would create freedom of press once and for all, and although it’s not been passed yet, the fact that policy makers are finally acknowledging freedom of press in schools is a step in the right direction for the future of student journalism.

Journalism never stops in this country, so what gives lawmakers and administrators the right to stop journalists? It seems Illinois is running out of answers to this question, and hopefully soon we will be able to answer this same question with only two simple words: “Absolutely nothing.”