Student Press Freedom Day and the Great Need for Student Journalist


--by Amber Courtney

On February 26, the staff of the VOICE of the Wildcats, joined college journalists nationwide in marking the third observance of Student Press Freedom Day, a day dedicated to honoring student journalists.

Student journalists provide an important service, contributing to their communities with essential information that otherwise would not be covered or done justice by any other source. During all of the tragedies striking our nation in recent years--- racial injustices, school shootings, sexual offenses, and now Covid-19---- students have been there, alongside professionals and in some cases as the solo journalist reporting it all. The work of young adults in high schools and colleges hold great significance, not only for their communities and to other students, but to the entire field of journalism and everything it represents.

As part of it observation, VOICE staffers viewed "Raise Your Voice," a documentary film that looks at students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida and how they coped in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in 2018 that left 13 people dead. The movie shows the student newspaper staff and how they reported on gun violence while also paying homage to their fellow students that were killed in the attack. The 45-minute film discusses the impact the paper had on the student body and outside media, with the writers demonstrating the emotional conviction and tenderness that was needed to cover such a sensitive topic.

The students, in my opinion, handled the issue better than any outside news outlet could have because they were a part of it. They were able to write moving pieces because they were there to experience the terror and heartache firsthand. They not only wrote for the school, but also for themselves. Their work was so remarkable that they received an honorable mention at the Pulitzer Prize ceremony the following year.

This is just one example of the power that student journalists can have, showcasing how important the freedom of speech, protest and press is among students in schools.

Another subject the film looked at was the problem of censorship that student journalists face. There are multiple cases in U.S. history where teenagers' protests, media and speech had been censored by their schools. The best example was the 1969 Tinker vs. Des Moines case, which came about after students decided to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. After refusing the school's request to remove the armbands, the students were sent home and suspended. The students and their parents then sued the school, with the case making it all the way to the U. S. Supreme court, which ruled in favor of the students. This case clarified the idea that students had the same freedom of speech as adults, regardless of rather it was expressed off or on school property. It inspired many other student protest cases after it and challenged a belief that the voices of young people didn't matter because they were "too young to know what they were talking about."

Student journalists should be recognized for the important roles that they now play in society and that they will play in the future. It is critical that student reporters and editors use their voices to make the changes that the world needs to see.

While it may not be as well-known as other commemorative events, Student Press Freedom and the students that inspire it should go down in the history books.