Staff Columnist

Stop censoring student journalists; teach them

High school is an opportunity for students everywhere to try on many different hats — soccer, cheerleading, National Honors Society, marching band, Spanish Club, even write for the high school newspaper.

That last one — high school newspaper — is where I first became passionate about journalism. I was 14-years-old when took my first journalism class and began learning how to ask intriguing questions and weave together interviews to tell a concise story.

Every month was a new news cycle. Students would share story ideas, be given time to make phone calls, send emails and track down sources, write, edit and finally put everything into layout.

From there, it was a waiting game until that box of newspapers arrived with the smell of fresh ink. With enthusiasm, we would spend third period delivering the latest news to our peers.

I had a lot of freedom in high school journalism class, and in Iowa, we are fortunate to have many protections that allow high school journalists to report somewhat independently of their administration.

Iowa Code states that students have a right to exercise freedom of speech, including the right of expression, in official school publications.

I’m proud that the superintendent of the Mt. Pleasant Community School District believes in a free and independent press, stating that “it’s a cornerstone of our republic.”

However, I believe school administrators need to do a better job of encouraging student journalists to be creative, ask questions, dig deeper and write stories that are truthful rather than asking them to turn a blind eye if they feel like someone within their school is being unfairly treated.

Students who are intrigued by history, who live to solve difficult math equations, who would prefer spending time in a biology lab than at lunch, are not taught to stifle their instincts. I have come across student journalists who hit roadblock after roadblock when asking questions of their administration, when instead the administration should be encouraging and further instill a students passion for reporting and storytelling.

High school newspapers are unique in the way they act in many ways as a professional newsroom. There are designated reporters, photographers, editors, copy editors and publishers (often a faculty member who is the journalism teacher or student newspaper adviser).

If student journalists get to run a newsroom as professionals, they should also be treated professionally and taken seriously by their administration.

Students have ownership over their publication, creating a product from beginning to end and becoming more invest in seeing it succeed. More so than any other classroom, a high school newsroom is a place for students to gain real-world experience, interact with not only peers but adults in a professional manner, and be motivated to write to the best of their ability because they know their article will be available for anyone to read.

I’ve never loved the term “student journalist.” When I was in college questioning whether or not I was on the right path, a mentor turned to me and said, “There are no student journalists, just journalists.”

Students, you are journalists, the watch dogs of your schools, an avenue for your classmates to share their stories and be heard. You have a responsibility to seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; and be accountable and transparent.

Do not take the role lightly.