Student Press Freedom Day: Student journalists are real journalists.


Conner Carlow

Student media provides a link between students to share important information. Student journalists have reported on remote learning, COVID safety, sports cancellations and school tradition changes.

Feb. 24 marks Student Press Freedom Day, a day dedicated to protecting the rights of student journalists across the nation. Currently, 15 states and Washington D.C. have student press freedom laws. However, Oklahoma lacks any laws that protect student journalists but has an active campaign to introduce legislation.

In Jan. 1988, in the case Hazlewood School District v. Kuhlmize, the United States Supreme Court ruled that public school administrators were able to censor stories about teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on children. The rule has since allowed administrators to engage in subjective and arbitrary censorship of school publications across the nation that do not have press freedom legislation due to its vague standard. Under Hazlewood, student journalists have fewer rights than the general study body solely because they are journalists.

Student journalists are key to local democracy. We play a vital role in informing fellow students, teachers and the community about campus and community events. We, as journalists, need to be able to serve as a check to school administrators on a school and district level. We even look at stories that outside media might miss and report on municipal, county and state issues.

There is an important need for coverage of local and commercial news. Professional news organizations have cut staff and struggled with sustainability ever since the start of the pandemic. Student journalists are one of the few who can offer insight into how schools are internally running.

When I moved from Texas to Oklahoma in the summer of 2020, I would not imagine where I would stand as a student journalist and editor. Scholastic journalism across the red river varies drastically. Coming from a top nationally ranked publications department, I had no idea how lucky I was to be at a school where school administrators supported you and prior review did not exist. 

So in early September, I started New Voices Oklahoma in coordination with the Student Press Law Center, in order to advocate towards student press freedom laws within our state. My goal is to ensure student journalists are protected under the law to talk about the things important to students, and to do so transparently. They have a responsibility to seek responses from administrators and spark a dialogue that cannot happen in the shadow of social media.

New Voices has emerged as a student-powered, nonpartisan, grassroots movement of state-based activists who seek to protect student press freedom with state laws. They include advocates in law, education, journalism and civics who want schools and colleges to be more welcoming places for student voices.

Student journalists are real journalists, and we deserve to be treated as such. The school, district, community and nation would not be what it is today without the work of student journalists.