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Teens take action against censorship, protect First Amendment rights

Avery Jones | The Feather Online

Dr. John Medina (middle), Feather journalists Carston Saelzler (right) and Mackenzie Beckworth at the SJV Town Hall, Jan. 23.

Over the past year, the world has watched as young activists take charge and address nationwide issues such as climate change, gun control and free speech. Teens go viral in the media, holding rallies, participating in strikes and empowering others through writing pieces.

Student Press Law Center (SPLC) named 2019  Year of the Student Journalist. The action raises awareness about the struggles teenage writers face, the need for protection of First Amendment rights and validation for the importance of journalism education.

According to the SPLC, there have been at least 7,550 student newspapers ‘stolen’ in at least eight different instances around the country this year. Schools around the San Joaquin Valley are restricting student voice by shutting down journalism programs, censoring news and cutting budgets.

Many students use journalism as a method for impacting their communities. Whether in founding a school newspaper or speaking up about censorship, students fight against the opposition to student voice. Last year, The Feather published an article highlighting student press rights and featured Neha Madhira, a student journalist who spoke out earlier this year after being censored.

Senior reporter for the Arizona Republic, John D’Anna, shares the importance of journalism programs and teens speaking out. D’Anna believes that if teens fail to stand up for themselves, no one else will.

“Young voices are vital and critical in this day in age for us to listen to,” D’Anna said. “So when kids are speaking out and have something to say, they need a vehicle to say it with. School newspapers are a vital part of that process along with journalism classes. Journalism classes teach critical thinking. They gather information, analyze it and make assessments of the credibility of the information.”

The following tweet by Student Press Law Center includes articles written by student journalists, featured on their website.

The Arizona Republic is the most in-depth source for news in Arizona, according to Agility PR Solutions. As a reporter, D’Anna believes activists like Emma Gonzales and Greta Thunberg, kids directly affected by world issues, are taking initiative internationally where adults should be leading.

“If students want their voices to be heard about cutting programs,” D’Anna said, “they can go and start their own news product, creating a website if they have something they feel needs to be said and heard, then they can without the schools permission.”

Americans are guaranteed the freedom of speech, press and religion from the First Amendment. Teens posting threats, hate speech and racist remarks are not protected by this amendment. The First Amendment does not protect students at private schools either.

The Year of the Student Journalist raises awareness about the struggles teenage writers face.

Private schools are not in the arms of the government and are free to restrict programs within certain laws.

SPLC staff attorney Sommer Ingram Dean supports journalism programs and believes they build a foundation for students to be the ‘watchdogs’ of society when they enter the ‘real world’ after graduating.

“It’s a shame for students and the community at large when schools choose to cut the journalism programs,” Dean said. “The training and guidance students receive in journalism programs is crucial, ensuring they are well-equipped with not only the technical expertise it takes to be an effective reporter, but critical thinking skills necessary to ferret out the truth.”

Dean speaks to young journalists, sharing the importance of their work. She implores teens not to be discouraged, but stand up in the face of adversity.

“The importance of young people standing up for what they believe in cannot be overstated,” Dean said. “Your voices matter. Your perspective could bring about much needed change. News is happening now, all around you. News that effects you and your peers. That means you are the best people to report on it, to speak out about it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Recent teens like Thunberg take action on world issues, proclaiming disappointment over what is being done globally to stop climate change. Thunberg utilizes her social media platform and activism experience to share how she and other teens feel about the topic. She remains willing to discuss her frustrations, despite responses from adults.

D’Anna encourages students to inform their school administration about the value of journalism. He advocates for student leadership and the use free speech on school campuses, as well as public platforms.

Braden Bell | The Feather Online

Feather staffer Bryce Foshee (left) interviews the Mayor of Clovis, Drew Bessinger during the California 9/11 Memorial in Clovis, Sept. 11.

“There’s a lot of important issues out there that young people already talk about,” D’Anna said. “I think we want them to be able to express opinions and points of view about issues critical to them. In a world where there aren’t enough critical thinkers, I think it’s a mistake to cut classes that teach kids how to be critical thinkers.”

Thunberg’s beginning as a young child protesting during a school climate strike has escalated into a year-long sabbatical from school to promote her cause. Traveling from her home in Sweden, Thunberg attends conferences including the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 in NY, despite media attacks.

Featured on Fox News, CNN, and various other news outlets, Thunberg initiates conversations and debates over the climate change discussion. Beginning young as well, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai continues to speak about women’s rights.

Campus English teacher, Andrea Donaghe, believes in the importance of teens standing up for what they believe in. As the former yearbook adviser, Donaghe views the consolidation of journalism and yearbook programs as a ‘disgrace’ to publications.

“I’ve heard schools ‘consolidating’ journalism programs, not saying ‘cutting’,” Donaghe said. “Students should demand that journalism be offered at their school and encourage others to join. Standing up for something shows conviction and courage.”

Donaghe motivates students to acknowledge the difference between rebelling and standing up for what they believe in. Protests and marches differ from discussions and debates. Teens stay informed through social media, forming beliefs through what others say or do.

“Sadly, I think the lines can get blurred, not just for teens, between standing up for something and rebelling,” Donaghe said. “One should not choose to stand up without knowing the facts. A few years ago there was a ‘Woman’s March’ in Washington D.C and many others took place in major cities across the nation. To this day, despite researching it, going on the website and having an AP class research it, I still do not have a clear definition what they were ‘standing’ for.”

In the following podcast, Morgan Parker interviews Arizona Republic senior reporter John D’Anna about student voice.

Created at Georgetown University in 2017, the Free Speech Project has established a Free Speech Tracker to examine communication rights on a national level and documenting when First Amendment rights have been challenged. It is a free tool to journalists and is run by students and faculty.

The Michigan Daily, a University of Michigan student-run paper, is singled out as the only daily news source in town. Dan Levin of The New York Times published an article recognizing their work and sharing their journey.

“For more than a decade, The Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, has been the only daily paper in town,” Levin said. “After The Ann Arbor News shuttered its daily print edition in 2009 – and eventually its website, too – a staff of about 300 student journalists has worked hard to provide incisive coverage about the city’s police, power brokers and policymakers, all while keeping up with school.”

Third-year Feather journalist Bryce Foshee, ‘21, believes that all voices should be heard. Foshee writes for the campus newspaper in order to encourage others to fight for each other and their rights. 

Avery Jones | The Feather Online

Feather journalists Morgan Parker (middle) and Addison Schultz (right), interview Northern California AP news editor Juliet Williams about fake news at Fresno State, Feb. 26.

“I don’t think anyone’s voice is more or less important because of their age or nationality,” Foshee said. “Student voices are important only because we’re people too. It shouldn’t matter to students whether or not their voice is heard by millions, because if what we have to say is worth listening to, people will listen. I think too many kids are yelling at adults and too many adults are yelling at kids.”

In the last few months, political arguments have been center stage on the internet, creating a platform for anger and disagreement. Foshee shares that political arguments are not worth the fight for students, but they should still inform about big issues.

“Standing up for oneself is great,” Foshee continued. “But whether you’re a student or an adult, you shouldn’t stand up for yourself by bashing others and their right to free speech. It’s okay to talk about the big arguments, like politics or whatever, but I don’t think these battles are worth it for students to fight over.”

High school papers have become censored by schools under the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case, 1988. Various attorneys and lawyers commit to helping these students protect their freedom of speech. Preserving student rights ensures youth equal opportunity to express their views.

The legal hotlines of SPLC and various lawyers are available to students in need of help. 

For more articles on student voice, check out Journalists share strategies for combating fake news. For more articles, check out Editorial: Students enter second quarter, seek study techniques, tricks and Plastic accumulates in Atlantic Ocean, trash vortex swells.

Morgan Parker can be reached via email and via Twitter.

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