A former high schoolnewspaper editor in Arkansas and a high school principal in Missouri willreceive the fifth annual Courage in Student Journalism Awards, presented by theNewseum, the Student Press Law Center and the National Scholastic PressAssociation. The awards are presented each year to student journalists andschool officials who have demonstrated exceptional support, despite resistanceor difficult circumstances, for student press freedom.
This year’swinners are Holly Ballard, former senior editor of the Prospective, thestudent newspaper at Bryant High School in Alexander, Ark., and Dr. Julie Leeth,principal of Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Mo. Each winner will receivea $5,000 prize, which will be presented at the National Scholastic PressAssociation/Journalism Education Association Fall Convention in Dallas on Nov.23.
“We applaud this year’s winners, who upheld the principles of theFirst Amendment in the face of daunting opposition,” said Newseum ProgramsDirector Rich Foster. “At a time when our rights could be compromised because ofthe desire for greater security, it is heartening to see the First Amendmentchampioned with such a sense of commitment in our high schools.”
Ballard,now a freshman at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is being recognizedfor her defense of press freedom for the Prospective, Bryant HighSchool’s student newspaper, last spring. A student journalist was preparing astory about discrimination based on sexual orientation, the final article in athree-part series that included previous stories on racial and religiousdiscrimination. When the principal of Bryant High School learned thatquestionnaires on sexual discrimination had been distributed to students togather information for the story, he confiscated the surveys and ordered thearticle stopped. He also created new rules for the newspaper’s staff and facultyadviser, which stated that he must approve all “controversial” topics to becovered in the paper and he would review and approve each issue of the paperbefore it went to press. Eventually, the district’s school board proposed newpolicies that gave editorial control over student publications toadministrators. The district also delayed renewal of the newspaper adviser’scontract based on concerns about the student newspaper’s content.
Ballardand her fellow staff members wrote a detailed rebuttal to the principal’sproposed policy changes and met with him to discuss their concerns. As senioreditor of the Prospective, Ballard became the spokesperson for thestudents, giving interviews about the growing controversy to the local andnational media. She coordinated the student effort to call school board membersto oppose the policy changes. By June, the school board had renewed theadviser’s contract and accepted a compromise policy proposed by the students.The principal dropped his demand for prior review and approval.
Leeth isbeing recognized for her ongoing defense of student press freedom in Springfieldschools for 28 years. One of her most courageous stands on freedom of the presscame in the fall of 2001, when a commentary that aired on Hillcrest HighSchool’s student cable TV news program, “HTV Magazine,” came under fire. In it,a student compared the scheming that occurs among contestants on realitytelevision programs with the behavior at monthly school board meetings. Afterthe segment’s initial airing, the district superintendent demanded that theremark be removed from the program before it aired again. The HTV staff andfaculty adviser refused to edit the program and pulled the entire show until thematter could be settled. Without hesitation, Leeth sided with the students andagainst her superiors. While school district officials debated whether theycould legally enforce the censorship, Leeth questioned the lessons the schoolsystem was teaching the students about a free press and First Amendmentrights.
Thanks to Leeth’s support, the show aired unchanged. But inresponse, the district adopted new guidelines that call for prior review of allstudent-produced programs. Despite these changes, Leeth has not wavered in hersupport for “HTV Magazine” and demonstrates her continued support for thestudents’ press freedom by refusing to preview shows before they air, whilecontinuing to take full responsibility for their content. In the words of theprogram’s student news directors, her support for press freedom “has made ourschool and our community better-informed and helped scholastic journalism becomesomething special at Hillcrest.”
“At a time when threats against studentpress freedom are greater than they have ever been, the courage demonstrated bythese two individuals is an inspiration to all who care about the future of theFirst Amendment in our democracy,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of theStudent Press Law Center.
The Courage in Student Journalism Awards aresponsored by the Newseum, the Student Press Law Center and the NationalScholastic Press Association. The Newseum, the interactive museum of newsplanned for Washington, D.C., is funded by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisanfoundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people.Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national organizationexclusively devoted to providing free legal advice and assistance to studentjournalists and advisers and serving as an advocate for their free press andfreedom of information rights. Founded in 1921, the National Scholastic PressAssociation and its college division, the Associated Collegiate Press, providerating services and critical analyses for print and electronic student newsmedia and sponsor the largest annual national conventions for studentjournalists and theiradvisers.