Uncertainty, censorship of chosen names, and adviser burnout — SPLC staff reflects on convention conversations

Five adults in lanyards stand around a blue SPLC convention table talking

SPLC taught nine workshops over the course of three days at the National High School Journalism Convention in Los Angeles, covering topics ranging from New Voices training sessions to copyright law to reporting on #MeToo.

During this time, SPLC staff connected with hundreds of young student journalists, advisors and teachers from across the country. Being back in person after two years of virtual conventions allowed SPLC staff to reconnect on a deeper level with the high school student journalist community and discuss censorship and press freedom topics at the forefront of national discussion; most notably, the conversation surrounding censorship of students’ preferred names in publications as opposed to their given legal names. SPLC is developing and will soon launch new resources based on these discussions.

We asked our staff to reflect on the weekend and the significance both of the convention itself and the impactful work of young student journalists. Here’s what they had to say:

Hadar Harris, Executive Director

What are some observations you made while at the convention?

It was powerful and invigorating to be back together in person. We met students we had helped through the free legal hotline, saw advisers we’ve worked with over many years and connected with New Voices advocates from across the country. We celebrated their successes but we also listened hard and, in session after session, heard about new challenges arising from the chilling effect of educational gag orders and misinterpretations of the law which is leading to censorship of student journalists’ work.

Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel 

What is your biggest takeaway from the convention?

Hearing from teachers about what is happening in their newsrooms right now and the new challenges they are facing was probably most helpful. For example, hearing about the rise in censorship surrounding preferred names vs. legal names has moved from a relative non-issue to a front line issue was eye-opening.

Jonathan Falk, Staff Attorney

What are some observations you made while at the convention?

Infectious enthusiasm of student journalists, stoic dedication of teacher advisers, and a true sense of community and shared conviction among both.

Hillary Davis, Advocacy and Organizing Director

What was the biggest challenge you saw at the convention? 

Uncertainty. There are so many things coming at journalists and advisers right now, and often nobody is sure how real the challenges are. They’ve been told about laws that don’t exist governing pronouns, for example, or are being censored under divisive content laws that nobody actually knows the text of. That uncertainty combined with fear is very understandably paralyzing to some people, and SPLC will need to be ahead of all these new trends to make sure we’re empowering everyone as best we can. 

Theo Nastase, Advocacy and Organizing Associate

What was the biggest moment of celebration for you at the convention? 

The biggest moment of celebration for me was seeing the kids’ faces light up in our sessions as they shared their stories with each other of overcoming a challenge. I saw kids that started off shy and nervous become confident and comfortable as they spoke with each other about things they’ve overcome. It was really great to see that spark in them going off.