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Press Freedom – Issues in Scholastic Journalism

by Shelley Blundell.

In the past, student media publications have been supported as promoting the free expression of students and representative of their academic freedom, which is critical to the intellectual growth of both student participants and students in general (Dvorak, 1994). However, many of these same publications have been subject to fierce censorship and recrimination on behalf of school officials and administrators for various reasons, leading to a number of negative effects for both students involved in journalism, and student bodies in general (Clark & Monserrate, 2011; Lomicky, 2000).

In their qualitative investigation into the nature of high school journalism, Clark and Monserrate (2011) interviewed high school student journalists at 19 different schools to find out what these students felt being involved in journalism contributed to their academic and personal experiences. Based on previous research in the area of student media (also called scholastic media), journalism researchers and educators such as Dvorak (1994) discovered that students who were involved in journalism at the high school level and published their work had better, more developed writing skills and styles than students who were not involved in high school journalism. Additionally, as Clark et al. (2011) discovered, involvement in student media makes students feel more engaged in civic duties, and participatory in their overall scholastic experiences.

However, as Clark et al. (2011) found, these high school journalists also reported negative experiences they had with school administrators regarding student media, particularly in terms of censoring material, and the impact this had on their notions of civic engagement, duty, and responsibility (both to themselves and to their peers). In order to understand how censorship at the primary and secondary education level impact students’ academic freedom, the concept shall be explored in this information resource from a number of different angles, discussed below.

Direct censorship by school officials and administrators (known as Prior Review) is one way student media content can be limited. However, there are other factors that may also indirectly censor student media, such as Internet filtering (Internet filters applied to Internet-capable devices in schools that impact the type of information to which students who work in student media have access), the way the decisions of cases like Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (landmark Supreme Court case decisions in terms of student media) are applied to student media publications, and self-censorship by student journalists and their advisers in terms of content that appears in student media publications. Each of these elements shall be explored in a separate post. The final post examines the potential impact of social media on the student media environment, and explores briefly what costs and benefits could be associated with student journalists using social media to “report the news.”

For the purposes of this information resource, “student media” as a concept is defined as any and all journalism activities that are produced within a school for the purpose of serving the student body at large by dissemination of content specific to that student body (JEA, 2013). These activities include (but are not limited to) traditional media formats such as newspapers, news magazines, television stations, radio stations, yearbooks, and literary magazines, as well as newer formats such as online publications, including news web sites, podcasts, and news video sites.

All references:

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Clark, L. S., & Monserrate, R. (2011). High school journalism and the making of young citizens. Journalism, 12, 417-432. doi: 10.1177/1464884910388225

Dvorak, J., Lain, L., & Dickson, T. (1994). Journalism kids do better: What research tells us about high school journalism. Bloomington, Indiana: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication.

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