Student Journalism, Student Freedoms

Although Eduflack is several decades removed, I still look fondly on his student journalism experience. In high school, I remember a principal who would often tell us what we could or should not be writing about. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. It was high school. I was engaged in other activities. And I just didn’t think it really affected me much.

College was a different story. While I was a student at the University of Virginia, I really see my college years at The Cavalier Daily. The CD was an independent newspaper at U.Va. We published daily, typically 12 or 16 pages a day. I ultimately served as managing editor of the paper, overseeing a volunteer staff of nearly 150 and the content that was put out each day. We never got paid. We never received college credit. We did it for the love of journalism.

When I was on the managing board, we faced a particularly delicate issue involving the University’s Honor Committee and the son of a prominent internationally recognized businessman. We broke the story. We had papers like The Washington Post and The Richmond Times-Dispatch looking to our coverage (and at times, even calling our printer to try and get an advance read before the papers hit the news stands in the morning).

Because of the high profile, it was a tough issue for our managing board — five kids in their early 20s — to navigate. We received many threats. We had the University and others talk about lawsuits against us for violating the sanctity of the Honor system. We had legal counsel on speed dial (a former CD alum who looked out for us and did a helluva job). And we continued to publish. We continued to push. We continued to throw a spotlight on a system that was treating a student of incredible means and of powerful upbringing differently than the average student when it came to our single-sanction Honor system.

Our news coverage ended up winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association and praise from free press groups. Every step along the way, we heeded the words of Thomas Jefferson that appeared on our masthead every morning.

For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.

Why do I take this little trip down memory lane? I do so because of the student journalists of the Playwickian, a student newspaper at Neshaminy HIgh School in Pennsylvania. The newspaper has had student activity fees withdrawn and its advisor and journalism teacher suspended. According to news reports, the principal and the school board have sought to dictate editorial policy for the newspaper, demanding the student journalists follow orders from on high. And just last week, the editor in chief was stripped of her position by the administration.

What was their offense? Did these student journalists print profanities? Did they libel school or community leadership? Did they violate federal law about the privacy of student records?

No. They refused to publish the school mascot’s name. The name in question? Redskins. These journalists followed the lead of publications like The Washington Post and refused to use what they saw as a racist term in editorial coverage (namely a letter to the editor). And when facing pressure, these journalists and their advisors stood their ground.

You can read more about their issue on the #FreethePlaywickian Indigogo campaign.

Around the nation, we are seeing professional media outlets praised for doing what these student journalists are doing. We are also reading more and more about media freedoms around the world being at risk. We should be honoring these students for taking a stand they believe in. We should be praising them for embodying everything a free press stands for. We should raise them up as an example of how students and the media can lead.

This isn’t about whether one feels the Redskin mascot is racist or not. This is about media freedoms. It is about student journalism. And it is about teaching one to stand up for their beliefs. It is, as Jefferson wrote, about using reason to combat those errors we see in society.

I proudly stand with the Playwickian I just pledged my financial support to help them.. And I hope some of these journalists will one day join The Cavalier Daily and other fine examples of student journalism found around the country.

One thought on “Student Journalism, Student Freedoms

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s