Student journalism is real journalism

Student Press Freedom Day reminds us of the importance of authentic stories.



ILLUSTRATION: Student Press Law Center logo for Student Press Freedom Day 2023

Julia Gray '23, Editor-in-Chief

About once a month, my co-editor-in-chief and I begin the process of pitching and brainstorming stories for our paper. We stand in front of our staff, throwing candy at writers who volunteer to write an article.

Sometimes, though, we are in this process and an article that a writer thinks will be controversial is pitched. 

The stream of candy stops. 

“Can we write about that? Can we ask that question?” we ask ourselves. 

As the editor-in-chief of a publication, I see every article before it is published, but I also help during this storyboarding process. Here is where I see the most self-censoring. 

Sometimes it feels like being a student journalist is a constant and long-running fight against censorship, whether it be from outside forces or self-imposed. ”

What story would you write if no one could stop you? If you were free of self-censorship? That was one of the questions the Student Press Law Center asked during a session I attended at the National High School Journalism Convention in St. Louis last fall. 

In a room full of excited, dedicated, and passionate student journalists, I learned that students felt they couldn’t write about the LGBTQ+ population at the school, book bans, sex education, or adolescent drug use. I felt disappointed that my fellow students felt that they couldn’t write about these topics—but I wasn’t shocked. 

Sometimes it feels like being a student journalist is a constant and long-running fight against censorship, whether it be from outside forces or self-imposed. 

The 1988 Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which uses vague language to define when and where schools and colleges can regulate newspapers, leaves student journalists vulnerable to unbridled censorship. This ruling means we must work to protect our ability to tell the stories of our community. 

Right here in Pennsylvania, in 2019, students from The Playwickian at Neshaminy High School fought consistent budget cuts and censorship. They persisted, however, and published a story exposing the school’s mishandling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. 

The author and editor-in-chief of the publication, Grace Marion, received a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment award for her work, which recognizes excellence in journalism, education, publishing, law, government, and arts and entertainment. This award, which Marion won for work she completed while she was in high school, is not reserved for students. 

This is why it is vital for student journalists to be censor-free, whether it be self-imposed or otherwise. Student journalism is real journalism. Without her reporting, the true nature of Marion’s school’s mishandling of complaints wouldn’t have come to light.

Beginning with our last issue, The Panther Press was subjected to prior review. 

According to the Journalism Education Association, prior review occurs when anyone who is not on the publication requires that they read, view, or approve student material before distribution. 

Prior review leads to self-censoring, a fear that a writer’s work won’t be “approved” that I’ve seen first-hand. 

Student journalism shouldn’t have to be approved by anyone but student editors. We should have the opportunity to take true accountability for our work. Instead, prior review stunts the development of true journalistic responsibility. 

The elimination of prior review means the creation of true trust between a publication’s staff and their audience. We should be able to gain trust, admit our mistakes, and live with the consequences without administrative interference. 

As student journalists, we have the ability to see into an ill-lit landscape that mainstream news doesn’t have access to. When we are censored, our ability to report stops, and we can’t be the voice of our community, 

Student Press Freedom Day is celebrated each year in February (Feb. 23 this year), but these discussions need to be constant in order to protect free speech.

Pennsylvania is in the early stages of developing New Voices legislation that would protect the voices of student journalists in all schools statewide. HB 2102, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Shusterman, was introduced on November 23, 2021 and referred to the House Education committee. Prime sponsors are committed and bill numbers are expected shortly for a new bill in 2023. Learn more about New Voices here.