Talking Points for Student Press Freedom Day

Are you planning to write an op-ed, create a video, host an event, or talk to a journalist about Student Press Freedom Day (Feb. 23, 2023)? Below are some talking points to help guide you: 

These are just suggestions to get you to start thinking about censorship of student journalists, and why Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy are more important than ever. You can pick and choose from these points. And always remember to incorporate your personal experiences. Your story is what will truly move people! 

About the Day:

What is Student Press Freedom Day? 

Student Press Freedom Day (Feb. 23, 2023) is an initiative by the Student Press Law Center where students, advisers and press freedom groups work together to:

  • Raise awareness of the vital work of student journalists
  • Highlight how how censorship threatens that important work, and
  • Empower student journalists to take action to restore their First Amendment Freedoms.

Each year, Student Press Freedom Day grows in scope as more students write op-eds, create videos, host events, tell their stories and build momentum for New Voices campaigns in their state.

The theme for Student Press Freedom Day 2023 is Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy.

Why is the theme for 2023 “Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy”?

It takes courage to pursue hard truths, to doggedly investigate important stories, to fight back against censorship, to withstand pressures to self-censor, and to advocate for policies and laws that will protect press freedom for future students. Student journalists do this difficult work every day — and their campuses and communities are stronger for it. That’s why this year, we’re bringing together the student media community to learn new journalistic and advocacy skills, to work creatively to overcome censorship and other barriers, and to inspire each other to courageously fight for student press freedom. We’re bolder and braver together!  

What are the sub-themes?

Our 2023 sub themes are:

  • Know Your Rights — In order to practice bold journalism and brave advocacy, you need to understand your rights and be empowered to confidently stand up for student press freedom.
  • Tell Your Community’s Truth — Student journalists are making a real impact uncovering hard truths in their communities, but this is only possible where student press freedom is protected. 
  • Promote Accountability & Transparency — Student journalists hold schools and community leaders to account, not only through insightful coverage, but by advocating for transparent policies and disclosure of public information. A free student press is imperative to creating a healthy, informed and civically engaged community.
Are you writing an op-ed about Student Press Freedom Day?

If you are drafting an op-ed for Student Press Freedom Day, we ask that you incorporate information about the Day and about the Student Press Law Center to give your readers important context and to get more folks involved! (Feel free to include more than what we’ve provided here.)

  • The Student Press Law Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes, supports and defends the First Amendment and free press rights of student journalists and their advisers.

The Big Questions:

Why Celebrate Student Journalists?
  • Journalism is critical in maintaining a free and open civil society and robust democracy. 
  • Journalism education teaches students how to ask hard questions, discern truth and to value facts. These are qualities that shape informed citizens. 
  • Student journalists, like professional journalists, provide an essential, constitutionally-protected public service to their communities. They should be recognized and fully supported for the crucially important service they provide. 
What is “Bold Journalism”?
  • Covering important — sometimes controversial — current events accurately, ethically and effectively, even though administrators may not want them to.
  • Exposing fraud, mismanagement and dangers in their own communities.
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability from decision-makers, whether it’s the school board, the superintendent’s office, or the city government.
  • Amplifying historically excluded voices against threats of erasure.
  • Playing an increasingly important role in the shrinking media ecosystem by filling “news deserts” that used to be occupied by professional journalists.
What is “Brave Advocacy”?
  • When student journalists stand up to external pressure or criticism and trust your own unique perspectives, even though youth voices are more easily silenced and discounted.
  • Advocating for stories to be published against the fear of censorship or administrative restraint.
  • Developing the tools they need to speak confidently for student press freedom.
  • Working to convince lawmakers to pass state New Voices laws that restore First Amendment protections for student journalists and protect advisers from retaliation.
  • Knowing their rights and demanding school officials adhere to New Voices laws, school policies, or other regulations that protect against censorship.

Dig Even Deeper:

Know Your Rights
  • Freedom of speech and the press is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Yet as a result of the US Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlemeier, student journalists are actually guaranteed fewer rights in comparison to both professional journalists and their fellow students. 
  • There are only 16 states that currently have laws counteracting the 1988 Hazelwood decision, leaving a majority of student journalists, especially at the high school level, without legal protections against censorship and other threats to student press freedom.
  • When student journalists know their rights, they are empowered to overcome obstacles and pressure from those in positions of power, allowing them to report freely and confidently.
    • These pressures range from administrators withholding information, to budget cuts in response to a publication’s content, to administrators demanding students remove stories or information from their publication.
  • Student journalists are providing this service against many odds, including threats of censorship, lack of access, budget cuts, the personal toll of isolation, risk of assault and harassment during protests or public gatherings, and much more.
  • In states where there are no legal protections for student journalists, but student journalists know what their rights should be, they are courageously standing up and advocating for their First Amendment rights. 
  • While student journalists should be guaranteed their rights on the federal and state level, individual school districts are also responsible for making sure any state legislation protecting student press freedom is implemented. 
Tell Your Community’s Truth
  • Young journalists provide a unique, essential perspective. They understand and can identify issues that their older colleagues might miss. They speak their readers’ language and provide a trusted forum for young voices to share their concerns and have their questions answered. 
  • Student journalists play an important role in telling historically marginalized or excluded groups’ stories.
    • Students are on the front lines covering racist incidents on campus, sexual misconduct, LGBTQ+ discrimination, lack of accessible resources for disabled students and other injustices where students and community members are being taken advantage of.
    • They are also providing respectful feature coverage of cultures and communities other than their own — highlighting positive stories of groups often under-represented and disproportionately negatively represented in professional news coverage.
    • Students are re-evaluating longstanding journalistic practices under an evolving understanding of what it means to minimize harm. They are working to build trust in their communities through a variety of practices — inclusive language, consideration of the risk of doxxing when publishing protest photos, wariness of false equivalence, and more.
    • Student publications provide a platform for marginalized voices to amplify their experiences. Instead of the old maxim of “giving voice to the voiceless” they’re focusing on helping those already using their voices to reach a wider audience.  
  • As local media shrinks, student media are expanding their coverage beyond just their campus to the wider community — often acting as the only source of local news in places that would otherwise be “news deserts.” 
Promote Accountability & Transparency
  • Accountability and transparency are necessary to uphold a free and open civil society and robust democracy. Good student journalism promotes accountability and transparency by telling important stories to keep the public engaged and informed about people, policies and events that impact their lives. 
  • Student publications have a unique vantage point and perspective, allowing them to focus on hyperlocal stories, gathering and delivering vital information on issues of public concern.
    • These stories can cover a variety of issues such as financial mismanagement, infrastructure issues within schools, COVID-19 and other local health concerns, instances of discrimination against teachers or students, abuse and violations within athletic programs and leadership shortcomings among school officials and policy.
  • As student publications are increasingly filling gaps in news deserts or replacing dying local media outlets, they often act as the only watchdogs in school board meetings, covering local elections, requesting public information and examining policies that directly affect their community.
  • Student press freedom laws and policies ensure student journalists are able to practice bold investigative and watchdog journalism — calling attention to serious problems affecting their classmates and creating an opportunity to improve their schools.
    • When schools censor students for reporting stories that “make the school look bad,” they’re silencing youth voices and preventing constructive conversations in the community.
  • When schools deliberately create roadblocks to public information, they are violating student press freedom and doing a public disservice.
  • When schools use censorship, prior review and other intimidation tactics against students, they not only suppress important stories, they create a culture of silence and fear among students, leading to self-censorship.
  • Censorship stories need to be told — students hit hardest by censorship are less able to publicly tell their stories. We as the student journalism community advocate for each other because every student deserves press freedom.