Getting by with a little help from our friends: SPJ endorses New Voices U.S. campaigns

This year (2016) has been a major year for student press rights and the New Voices movement. Legislators passed student free expression laws in Maryland and Illinois (the latter being unanimous passage; go ahead and take a bow, Illinois), with bills filed in six other states.

Now, the Society of Professional Journalists is throwing their weight behind the effort, issuing a resolution at their 2016 Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans declaring their unyielding support for concrete First Amendment protections for student journalists.

ICYMI, the New Voices campaign is a nationwide, state-by-state effort to pass student free expression laws. It’s a coordinated response to administrative censorship in public high schools and colleges led by students, educators and professional journalists.

And us. Because we’d very much like to start sleeping in on Saturdays.

New Voices laws codify the notion that government employees (public school officials) shouldn’t be able to curtail the free speech of their student media outlets. They protect students from undue censorship and faculty from administrative retaliation. (Not convinced this is a problem? If 2016 hasn’t depressed you enough already, take five minutes to peruse our case files of recent censorship and retaliation incidents from around the country.)

See, the Supreme Court made a ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that school-sponsored student publications do not enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment (unless explicitly designated a “public forum”), and that administrators can censor student media for any “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

This is a problem. Because “legitimate pedagogical concerns” all too frequently gets interpreted as ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

SPJ issued a supportive resolution at its 2015 national conference hailing enactment of the John Wall New Voices of North Dakota Act, but this year’s resolution has special resonance coming on top of a series of nationally publicized attacks on campus media. As the authors noted:

 [T]he student media is confronting aggressive hostility from college administrators’ intent on withholding unflattering information, exemplified by the University of Kentucky’s near-unprecedented decision to initiate a lawsuit against its own student newspaper in an attempt to conceal records reflecting the university’s disposition of harassment and sexual battery accusations against a professor;

The resolution cited research reinforcing the civic value of journalism education, including a University of Kansas survey documenting “that high school students whose schools respect and practice First Amendment freedoms graduate with a heightened sense of civic efficacy, as measured by their belief that they can use their words to effect positive social change.”

Just as last year, we’re truly thrilled to have the endorsement of the largest and most influential professional organization for journalists in the United States. New Voices is a grassroots effort, and having professional journalists, many of whom came to this profession as a result of their work in student news outlets, spreading knowledge and advocating for legal protections can change the game.

If you’d like to jump on the bandwagon (we totally need more cowbell), you can visit or find your state’s campaign on social media: