The Student Press Law Center joined the journalismworld Wednesday in mourning the loss of Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaperman andauthor Jack Nelson, whose landmark study documenting widespread censorship ofstudent journalism, Captive Voices, led to the formation of theSPLC.
“Jack Nelson was, first and foremost, a greatreporter and storyteller. But his contributions to journalism go far beyond hisreporting. Jack was one of the country’s most forceful, most articulate,and most effective champions of an uncensored press for everyone, includingstudents,” said Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student PressLaw Center.
Nelson, 80, died early Wednesday morning of pancreaticcancer at his home in Bethesda, Md., near Washington. A familiar guest analyston television news programs for a generation, Nelson earned renown as Washingtonbureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, from which he chronicled thelandmark events of the civil-rights movement across his native South throughoutthe 1960s and ’70s. He was a founding member of the Reporters Committeefor Freedom of the Press, which advocates for the legal rights of journalists togather and publish information.
Nelson was the author of several books, includingThe Censors and the Schools (1963) (with Gene Roberts Jr.). His 1974volume, Captive Voices, dramatically captured the heavy-handed censorshipunder which high school student journalists labored – often in defiance ofthe First Amendment. The study was published by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial,which used its release as a springboard to launch the creation of the StudentPress Law Center.
“Jack Nelson’s reporting made the dramatichuman toll of censorship real and palpable. Jack himself had worked underhostile conditions covering the civil-rights movement as a big-city newspapermanin the Deep South, and he responded on a gut level to the plight of studentjournalists, many of whom labored then – and still labor today – ina climate of fear and intimidation,” LoMonte said.
“With the passing of Jack Nelson, the journalismworld has lost one of its most forceful and articulate voices for freedom of thepress. Every student journalist who is able to publish free from harassment andretaliation owes a debt to Jack Nelson.”
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has beendevoted to educating high school and college journalists about the rights andresponsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the studentnews media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Centerprovides free information and educational materials for student journalists andtheir teachers on a wide variety of legal topics on its website atwww.splc.org.