The Booster Redux demonstrates the importance of anti-Hazelwood laws

This week, a group of student journalists in Pittsburg, Kan. achieved something that many their age only dream of: affecting real, tangible change in their community.

The Pittsburg High School Booster Redux investigation into the academic credentials of Amy Robertson, a newly-hired principal, resulted in the revelation that there was no evidence the institution from which she claimed to hold two advanced degrees actually existed. This week, she resigned.

First, the professionals at the Kansas City Star — located 90 minutes north on U.S. 69 — took notice.

Then, the assorted Twitter media zeitgeist which student journalists might be familiar with.

Then, the Washington Post.

Then, the New York Times.

Thursday morning, they even appeared on Good Morning America.

The local newspaper, the Morning Sun, cited the Booster Redux in its coverage of the resignation on Wednesday.

The collective reaction of national commentators ran the range from “how could teenagers do such professional reporting?” to “how could students get away with publishing an article making their own district’s hiring practices look so sloppy?”

Had this story occurred in a state without laws protecting high school journalists, this story might never have seen the light of day. The Kansas Student Publications Act, signed into law in 1992, stands among the elders of today’s New Voices laws and legislation the SPLC has advocated in dozens of states.

The Kansas law gives high school journalists considerable control over the content of their publications, including editorial and advertising elements. School administration can only legally intervene if the content is judged to be illegal in some way or disruptive to the school.

Student journalists have the ability to own the stories that go on in their hallways, classrooms and locker rooms in a way that professional news organizations often can’t. We can only hope more states will implement New Voices laws and join the ranks of places like Kansas which enable and encourage their students to hold their officials accountable.