Texas students, adviser receive Courage in Student Journalism Awards

Four students from DeSoto High School in suburban Dallas, Texas, and student media adviser Carol Richtsmeier received the 2005 Courage in Student Journalism Awards presented by the Newseum, the Student Press Law Center and the National Scholastic Press Association.

The Courage in Student Journalism Awards are presented each year to student journalists and to a school administrator or media adviser who have demonstrated exceptional determination and support for student press freedom, despite resistance or difficult circumstances.

Students Whitney Basil, Eric Gentry, Zach Kroh and Jeremy Willis, who reported for DeSoto’s student newspaper the Eagle Eye, share the $5,000 student prize. Richtsmeier received a $5,000 prize as well. The awards were presented at the National Scholastic Press Association/Journalism Education Association convention in Chicago in November.

The students were recognized for their commitment to journalistic principles and defense of press freedom. In November 2004, their school board approved a $65,000 payment to a consultant named Project JAMS for an assessment of gang-related activity at the school. The students, suspicious that Project JAMS had overstated the level of gang-related activity at the school, launched an investigation. Delving deep into the background of the consultant, the students raised questions about the program’s credibility and uncovered false claims, unfulfilled contracts and unsubstantiated statistics.

DeSoto’s school board responded with threats of censorship, and Project JAMS responded with threats of legal action. Although pressured to stop their investigation, the students continued. Eventually, their efforts led to a series of town meetings and gained the attention of local print and broadcast media. As a result, the school board rejected the nearly $1 million in additional funds requested by Project JAMS.

Eagle Eye student newspaper adviser Carol Richtsmeier encouraged the students throughout their investigation. Knowingly jeopardizing her position at DeSoto, Richtsmeier stood before the school board and defended her students’ coverage and their press freedom. Despite frequent public criticism by the board, Richtsmeier’s unwavering support of the Eagle Eye staff paved the way for their investigation and set a courageous example of strong journalistic principles for her students to follow.

A New Look

In this issue, the Student Press Law Center Report begins a transformation that we hope you will appreciate. Long-time readers will notice more news briefs and a few longer stories that explore in-depth the issues confronting the student media as well as a more graphic presentation of important facts and advice. All of this, we hope, is packaged in a more user-friendly way.

Combined with the News Flashes on our Web site (www.splc.org/newsflash.asp), the Report strives to give you a complete picture of developments in student press law. As always, we appreciate your suggestions and comments. E-mail your thoughts to our publications fellow, Evan Mayor, at pubfellow@splc.org.