Depressing stories about journalism, about elected officials, and about the state of freedom of speech are so commonplace that it is a pleasure to be able to report a happy development that involves all three.
The Journalism Education Association has selected California State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to receive the JEA’s annual “Friend of Scholastic Journalism” award. The award will be presented in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14 in concert with the annual JEA/National Scholastic Press Association high school journalism conference. The award recognizes professional journalists, public officials and others who have significantly advanced the well-being of the high school media.
It is hard to overstate what Senator Yee has meant to scholastic journalism in California. Through his persistent efforts, California became only the second state (joining Kansas) with an anti-retaliation law explicitly protecting teachers against punishment for what their students say or write. The law closes a loophole that school administrators have exploited to skirt protective state laws that insulate the students themselves.
This year, Senator Yee is back at it. His 2009 legislative package includes bills that would expand open-government laws to apply to university-affiliated “auxiliary” organizations, and protect citizens against being socked with attorney-fee awards if they bring unsuccessful challenges against public agencies under open-government laws. And he and his staff are not content simply to write good laws and exchange back-pats for a hard day’s work – they pick up the phone and intercede when they see student rights being violated, going above-and-beyond the depth of involvement we expect of legislators.
It is especially noteworthy that Senator Yee did not come to the issue of student press freedom through the traditional channels of working in journalism, practicing law, or teaching school. He came to it as a child psychologist, because he saw first-hand the frustration and trauma that young people experience when they are told to bottle up their grievances because their opinions don’t matter. His foremost concern is not for the student media but for the student, and he speaks with an authority that cannot lightly be dismissed by those who would devalue the First Amendment. We congratulate a most deserving winner of the “Friend of Scholastic Journalism” award.