By Erich Reimer
*The City University of New York (CUNY) Masters in Journalism program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism is looking for applicants and eager to bring in veterans for the spring term. The program offers scholarships in addition to the GI Bill. Learn more about it here: https://www.journalism.cuny.edu/future-students/how-to-apply/
Today students, journalists, and many who fall into both categories, will be celebrating Student Press Freedom Day across the nation and the journalistic senses of curiosity, critical thinking, questioning, and storytelling. For many journalists, these qualities are developed through practice and experience as students, whether in college, high school, graduate school, or otherwise.
Student Press Freedom Day is a reminder of the importance of free speech and thought for all, including students continuing their studies at a time when their minds are encouraged to learn, ponder, and create. On January 13, 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court thought otherwise in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, ruling that public school student newspapers are not protected by the First Amendment to a level similar to their “real world” counterparts. Since then, many states have passed the “New Voices” legislation that grants student newspapers significant protections, yet on many campuses, the respect and demand of student journalism is still faced with perils that one may otherwise not expect.
There are tens of thousands of student newspapers on campuses and schools across this country- each publication churning out news reports, cartoons, op-eds, video productions, photojournalism, community calendars, and more. In many ways, the prevalence of student newspapers represents how indispensable forums for information exchange and platforms for discussion are in any community.
Student journalism is a tough gig. There are no big corporate backers and the staff are all volunteers. Revenue, without high-powered subscription income, to print papers and keep office space can be particularly sensitive. Turnover is high as students graduate and institutional memory and tradition need to be carefully kept. It also can be tough to command the gravitas as the fourth estate when in the perspective of a university official, business owner, or other relevant party to a story one may be seen as “just a kid.” Furthermore, sometimes school administrators get involved and exercise censorship power that seems overwhelming and undefeatable.
Yet, it is that hard grind that brings news and discussion to campuses and schools across the country, and the grind that molds many of our nation’s media and journalism professionals. Many of the biggest names in news and media tested the waters as student journalists. Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Buzzfeed, describes his college years as having honed his passion for reporting. The New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof ground his teeth at The Harvard Crimson. PBS NewsHour legend, and recently passed, Jim Lehrer (1934-2020) was once the sports editor at his high school newspaper.
This Student Press Freedom Day, let us applaud all the student journalists out there sleuthing out a story, getting around a wall of silence, or just trying to keep the lights on in their offices. It is that hard-nosed determination that keeps power accountable and supports the marketplace of ideas in schools across the country, as well as training them to be ready for the “real world” experience after graduation. This is a competitive field to get into, however, receiving hands-on experience as a student journalist can lead to more opportunities for professional development and success.
To the young journalists out there – don’t give up and remember the spark that started you on this path.