Students across the US “Unmute Themselves” for 4th annual Student Press Freedom Day

A young woman stands among protesters taking photos with a DSLR Camera. The biggest sign says "Defund CCPD."
Student photojournalist Kathryn Skeean raises her camera to make photographs during a Black Lives Matter protest in Athens, Georgia on June 2, 2020. [Photo by: Taylor McKenzie Gerlach]

On Feb. 24 student journalists and national press freedom organizations across the United States stood up and celebrated Student Press Freedom Day. Embracing the theme of “Unmute Yourself,” students and allies across the country did just that.

Student Press Freedom Day is an annual nationwide event that recognizes student journalists, raises awareness of challenges facing them, celebrates their work and contributions to their communities, and encourages others to take action to protect their First Amendment freedoms.  

​​Journalism is critical in maintaining a free and open civil society and robust democracy

Danielle Dieterich, digital strategist for the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and lead coordinator behind Student Press Freedom Day, said this year’s celebration was fantastic and she was excited to see how much Student Press Freedom Day has grown over the past four years.

“This year, it was so encouraging to see students and advisors from across the country really come together to share the work that they’re proud of, to commiserate over the struggles that they’re facing, and to be inspired to push back against censorship, against self-censorship and against many of the other struggles that they’re dealing with in newsrooms across the country,” Dieterich said. 

Although this year was the second year the SPLC hosted virtual events to accommodate COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, students across the country continued to get involved. 

Leading up to Student Press Freedom Day, the SPLC hosted an array of events, including four virtual skills-building workshops ranging from training on writing op-eds to how to advocate to protect student press freedom; an Instagram Live book club discussion between New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and the award-winning journalists at Harris Townsend High School in Queens;  and a discussion breaking down student journalists’ rights in “Student Press Freedom 101.”

The organization also held numerous Student Press Freedom Day events on Feb. 24, including four Instagram Live discussions with the Student Press Freedom Day Student Co-Chairs and a virtual letter writing party, where student journalists got together to meet SPLC staff and fellow student journalists to contact legislators and other decision makers to enact change. 

More than 24 national press freedom and journalism organizations co-sponsored the day and held events or used their social media platforms to amplify messages of support for student press freedom. 

… this movement is much more than a single day. Everything keeps going. We’re not stopping for a second.

Organizational partners held events to celebrate the day, including PEN America’s Free Speech Live! Event with a student-led discussion featuring Mary Beth Tinker, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s editorial cartooning workshop, and a robust discussion with state legislators and activists about the New York New Voices Student Journalist Free Speech Act sponsored by the Tully Center for Free Speech.

Grassroots leaders also took to social media to promote Student Press Freedom Day and highlight their support for press freedom. Ranging from discussions about the law and New Voices legislation efforts in Texas to students creating their own “Newseum” exhibits in Florida, journalists, advocates, educators and advisors unmuted themselves and advocated for press freedom in a variety of ways. 

Dieterich said while celebrating student press freedom on a particular day as a community is a great experience, it’s crucial to remember the role of press freedom every day. 

“It’s important once it’s over to really remember that this movement is much more than a single day,” Dieterich said. “Everything keeps going. We’re not stopping for a second.”

This year, celebrating Student Press Freedom was more important than ever, according to Dieterich. Given that the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, those celebrating student press freedom in the U.S. were encouraged to think critically about the role journalism plays in upholding democracy. 

“​​Journalism is critical in maintaining a free and open civil society and robust democracy,” the SPLC tweeted on Feb. 24. “And journalism education teaches students how to ask hard questions, discern truth and to value facts. These are qualities that shape informed citizens.”

Supporting student journalists and the rights of student journalists doesn’t end with Student Press Freedom Day — our celebration must be followed by action. Check out ten simple steps you can take to advocate for student press freedom. Or, read our state-by-state advocacy guide to learn more about how you can get involved in your state and advocate for New Voices legislation. 

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