Anna Colletto, Cate Charron, Jessica Kim and William Tong served as the 2023 Student Press Freedom Day Student Co-Chairs. These college journalists are leaders in their newsrooms, communities and local New Voices movements. They are the student voice of the Student Press Freedom Day planning team. As their time as co-chairs comes to a close, they reflected on the experience and what they’ve learned in the past few months in the role.
Hundreds of student journalists and their advisers took action and celebrated for the fifth annual Student Press Freedom Day on Feb. 23, 2023. Since we joined the team at the Student Press Law Center in November, myself and my fellow co-chairs — Anna Colletto, Cate Charron, and William Tong — took on event planning, branding, program strategy, personal projects and more in the lead up to Student Press Freedom Day!
Engagement from individual student journalists and student newsrooms was the most powerful thing I witnessed during my time at SPLC. As co-chairs, we had insight into just how many students got involved with the Day. I cannot overstate how powerful it was to witness and help foster connections between student journalists across the country and continent when planning and facilitating events.
Whether you posted to social media, got an op-ed placed in a professional outlet, or attended one of our many virtual events, your involvement contributed to the necessary discussion around students journalists’ bold journalism and brave advocacy.
A great deal of the events and opportunities for involvement in this year’s Student Press Freedom Day revolved around advocacy, specifically for New Voices legislation. In our various efforts surrounding the day, I was consistently awed by the scope of the work student journalists and student media advocates do every day to support New Voices legislation.
When working in student newsrooms, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of content. The resulting student press freedom conversations then revolve primarily around censorship issues and information accessibility. While SPLC provides incredible resources to combat these dire challenges, their work in supporting student press freedom goes so much deeper. SPLC is in the weeds every day mobilizing students, promoting brave advocacy and taking action towards tangible systemic change in the landscape of protections for student media.
As a co-chair, I saw exactly how SPLC’s work translates into widespread action across the country, activating young people to care about their rights and engage in the political process. The passion and know-how with which the SPLC staff operates is deeply inspiring, to me and so many other student journalists –– and has since inspired me to investigate what ‘brave advocacy’ might look like in a future professional career.
During my time at SPLC, I learned numerous skills, beyond reporting and writing, that have prepared me to be a better journalist. My personal project focused on adapting legal and reporting resources for student sports journalists, and part of that included a deep-dive into what we currently know about Name, Image, and Likeness law. I read through and researched every piece of state legislation on the topic in every state and found many states have clauses exempting close to all information from being publicly available.
Before this experience, I had never seriously put time aside to fully read and understand legislation. Through the support and the resources available with SPLC, I now have the confidence and skills to break down legal jargon and make it digestible for the general public.
Student Press Freedom Day gave me opportunities to speak and work with student journalists and tailor my work to be most helpful. It was incredibly rewarding to see how conversations and resources could have such drastic effects on student confidence and reporting.
For me, serving as a Student Press Freedom Day Co-Chair revealed the shocking extent to which censorship still pervades the student media landscape. In our conversations with student journalists across the country, we learned they were still facing prior review and restraint, often without recognizing it.
Even in my home state of Illinois, which passed a New Voices law in 2016, numerous students have reported to the SPLC’s legal hotline that they have to jump through complicated administrative review before publishing stories — and those were only the students who felt comfortable enough to speak out.
Our work doesn’t stop after Feb. 23, and neither should yours. Advocacy, research, education and coalition building all take time and persistence. The four of us have experienced some obstacles along the way, but we plan to continue inching toward freer, more independent student media. We hope you’ll do the same!