Student wins press freedom award

\nWASHINGTON, D.C. – The high school editor who fought for\nand won the right to distribute his own student newspaper at an\nArizona high school has been named the winner of the 1998 Scholastic\nPress Freedom Award.

Ben Powers, editor in chief of The Central Voice, an\nindependent student newspaper produced by students at Central\nHigh School in Phoenix, accepted the award before a group of several\nthousand cheering students at the spring National Scholastic Press\nAssociation/Journalism Education Association convention in Albuquerque\nin April.

The Scholastic Press Freedom Award is given each year to the\nhigh school or college student journalist or student news medium\nthat demonstrates outstanding support for the free press rights\nof students. The award is sponsored by the Student Press Law Center\nand the National Scholastic Press Association.

Powers efforts began during the 1998-99 school year when he\nand the staff of the official student newspaper at Central High\nSchool experienced ongoing censorship, including stories about\nadministrative and staffing problems at the school.

Weary of the censorship, the newspaper’s adviser resigned.\nAccording to Powers, the new adviser changed the paper’s tradition\nof aggressive and robust news coverage, and eventually Powers\nwas asked to leave the publication staff where he had served as\na reporter and editor.

Frustrated with the direction taken by school-sponsored newspaper,\nPowers decided to publish his own newspaper that would serve as\na credible source for school news and student views.

The first issue of The Central Voice was produced at\nhis home with a small staff of friends. In its eight pages it\nexplained to readers that censorship of the official school newspaper\nhad prompted Powers to publish his own student newspaper. He included\nother general school news; a feature on the facts about censorship\nand the First Amendment was prominently included.

Once his paper was distributed, Powers became a focus of attention\nin the school. Teachers he did not know congratulated him and\nstudents occasionally applauded when he entered a classroom. \nStudents and teachers donated more than $175 to help pay for the\nsecond edition.

However, school officials had a different reaction to the publication.\nSecurity guards confiscated copies of the newspaper and Powers\nwas called into the principal’s office and told not distribute\nany more copies. He received a letter from the school’s attorney\nthreatening legal action.

Although Powers said he was afraid of punishment, he researched\nhis rights, contacted the SPLC and enlisted the aid of Phoenix\nattorney Daniel Barr.

After school officials confiscated his second edition, Powers\nthreatened legal action and went to the local media with his situation.\nDays later, the school backed down, both returning the confiscated\nnewspapers and pledging that it would allow him to distribute\nhis publication in the future without restraint.

“Ben Powers is what we all should aspire to be: a courageous,\nconscientious citizen who stood up for the public’s right to receive\nthe news they need,” said SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman.\n”I can think of no student who has been more deserving of\nthis award.”\n