Columbia Scholastic Press Association
Phone: (212) 854-9400
CSPA is affiliated with the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Know Your Rights
Short guide to your First Amendment press rights
By Katherine Reedy
Students have an unusual role in the journalism world. They often feel that in their work they do not have the same responsibilities as a “real” journalist. This could not be farther from the truth. At any age, a journalist has the same job—to find out and provide information to the public. To protect this duty, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and press, even for students.
A 2005 study by the Knight Foundation found that of the nearly 100,000 students asked about their thoughts on the First Amendment, nearly 73% did not know or not care about its protections. The study also found that awareness increased when students had taken a class in journalism.
Jim Lang, who oversees the school paper and teaches Journalism I at Floyd Central High School in Indiana, agreed that journalism education makes a difference in the way students think about their rights.
“I think a strong journalism program is the best way for kids to learn how to write and communicate as well as how to be responsible and learn what their basic rights are as Americans,” he said. “I think the best way is to practice them every day in the classroom.”
Lang noted that even he does not review students’ writing before it goes to print, but added that students are expected to follow ethical codes. His students, he said, have covered drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy, and other difficult issues, in addition to lighter controversial fare.
“Last year a student wrote a column about lazy teachers. I heard from some of my colleagues on that, but even then they went to him [the student],” he said. “The learning for the student came after it was published.”
Noreen Connolly, who oversees the paper at St. Benedict’s preparatory school in Newark, New Jersey, said at the end of each year she and her students invite the school’s headmaster to a dinner where, she said, “I always say publicly how great it is that he leaves us alone.”
A Glossary of Terms:
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier – A 1988 Supreme Court decision in favor of a school district that claimed it had power over a school newspaper because it was school-sponsored.
Prior review—Term for a principal’s or authority figure’s stamp of approval on a paper.
Tinker v. Des Moines—A 1968 Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of three students who had worn black arm-bands in protest of the Vietnam War. It set a precedent that public school students were guaranteed First Amendment rights.
Libel—Defamatory statement in a hard medium, like print or television.
Slander—Defamatory statement in a unrecorded medium, like speech.
Resources for Students and Teachers:
www.splc.org – Site devoted to the freedom of the student press.
www.firstamendmentcenter.org – Information on the First Amendment’s uses.
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CSPA is an international student press association, founded in 1925, whose goal is to unite student journalists and faculty advisers at schools and colleges through educational conferences, idea exchanges, textbooks, critiques and award programs.