If you have been told by administrators or student government that:
- You must stop publishing due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- You can’t cover the pandemic even though you are taking proper measures to protect your health and the well being of those around you
- You can’t produce yearbook pages about how the pandemic affected your school
- News outlet funding is curtailed/ended for the rest of the academic year
The Student Press Law Center has an array of resources which can help. We want to be sure that you know your rights and can ward off opportunistic efforts to cut your program, censor your publication, or even close your program. What follows is a list of tips, resource sheets, legal guides and links which will help you if you find your publication under threat.
Related: More coronavirus resources from SPLC
The first line of defense always is to contact the Student Press Law Center legal hotline for help. The hotline is a free resource staffed by expert attorneys who can help you work through any issue which arises. Along with important information applicable to your situation, we can provide a personalized letter about why your student news outlet is considered an “essential service” during a national emergency, or you can download a general one here.
A few pro-tips to focus you as you deal with the stress of administrative threats to your publication:
Expose Censorship / Promote Your Good Journalism
- Meet your peers where they are online and be transparent about what is happening. Ramp up your social media presence with essential information. Twitter threads and Instagram stories are great ways to get important stories to readers, including what is happening with funding and your ability to publish. Call for your readers and alumni to publicly show their support using a hashtag, like this one.
- During difficult times, you’ll need support from your readers and community. Remind your readers why your news outlet covers your school/campus like no one else can.
- Stress that your news organization abides by the tenets and ethics of journalism and publishes only fact-based coverage. The Pew Research Center found that despite overall satisfaction with news media coverage, nearly half of adults have seen what they consider to be made up news about the coronavirus pandemic.
- Check the student handbook at your campus or school district. It may include language that prevents administrators from silencing student media or is designated a forum for student expression.
- Remind administrators and student government that student news media is crucial to dispelling rumors or misinformation circulating among students, faculty and staff.
- If you’ve been censored, consult one of SPLC’s many step-by-step guides: Responding to censorship
- If you’re at a high school, here’s a page of resources.
- If you’re at a college/university, here’s a page of resources.
- If you’re at a private school, the rules are different, here’s a guide for you.
- If you produce independent publications or online media here’s a guide for you.
- If your school has censored your news organization, making you alter or remove a story or revoking access to your website outright, one option is to purchase a URL and create a new independent “underground” news website, with new social media to go with it like these high schoolers. And check out these additional resources for independent student media.
Advocate Against Budget Cuts
- Enlist your newsroom alumni network to write letters, make calls, and if need be, call out the budget decision-makers on social media. Alumni can also be a great source of donations to the publication, too.
- If your budget has been cut, follow this guide to try and restore your budget, or at least survive the cut: What to do when your student news outlet’s budget gets cut
- Wondering if your budget cut was legal? Learn when student newspaper budget cuts are unconstitutional.
Expand Revenue / Raise Funds
- Fighting a budget cut takes time and cuts aren’t always reversible. To keep your operation functioning, check out these financial tips for student publications including creating newsletters, educating your entire staff on the business side of the publication and combining advertising across student media platforms.
- If your news outlet has the capacity to receive donations, put a ribbon across the top of your home page or a prominent box on the side of the homepage seeking immediate support – and be sure to explain why the appeal is being made now.
- Be strategic with the way you pursue ads and work with advertisers:
- Many student publications are experiencing a dramatic spike in online traffic as their peers search for information on the coronavirus — if this is true of your publication, use it when negotiating rates with advertisers.
- Try creating more ad space on your site so you can have more advertisers. Learn about sizing standards for online and digital ads from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
- Think about on campus recruiting events that were canceled. Reach out to employers who were supposed to be part of career fairs to see if they would be interested in purchasing a digital ad.
- Give advertisers who shut down operations and couldn’t advertise digitally a voucher to advertise in the fall.
- Consider pushing payments out or offering refunds to businesses facing hardship because of the virus. Discuss offering delayed billing for businesses that are continuing with online ads. Building long-lasting relationships with advertisers will help you in the long run.
- Create a team with staff members, student media advisers and staff from your business office who can work to develop a financial plan for your immediate crisis and allocate funds in the upcoming academic year.
- Contact organizations like the College Media Business and Advertising Managers and Society of Professional Journalists to see if they can provide support or guidance for financial planning. This is also an opportunity to think creatively how you can diversify revenue streams for your student publication.
Finally, you can also find an overview of great tips in this report authored by the Student Press Law Center, in partnership with American Association of University Professors, the College Media Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship: “Threats to the Independence of Student Media”
And remember, contact the SPLC Legal Hotline for help. Write the story. We’ve got your back.