Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy: The Ongoing Struggle for Student Press Freedom

Student Press Freedom Day urges student journalists to remain steadfast amidst obstacles


Jayce Haun

Sydney Davis (11) takes a photo of publications adviser, Mr. Hall, at the 2023 JEA/NSPA National Journalism Conference in St. Louis, Mo.

Kay Copeland, Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Ledger

As a student journalist, I know firsthand the importance of a free press in a democratic society. Our work is not just about writing stories; it’s about shedding light on critical issues, challenging authority and amplifying the voices of those who might not otherwise be heard. Though despite the vital role we play, we often face significant obstacles in carrying out our duties. That’s why on Thursday, Feb. 23, student journalists around the globe urge you to celebrate Student Press Freedom Day.

Student Press Freedom Day is not just any day – it is a day of celebration, a day of recognition and a day of remembrance. Created by nonprofit organization The Student Press Law Center, this national day of action serves as an opportunity to celebrate the power of journalism, to recognize the challenges that student journalists face, and to remember the importance of a free and independent press in our democracy. 

The theme of this year’s event, “Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy,” serves as a call to action for all of us to use our voices and platforms to advocate for change. It reminds us that we must be fearless in our pursuit of the truth and willingness to speak truth to power, even when doing so may be uncomfortable or frowned upon.

Student journalists have a unique opportunity and responsibility to highlight the issues that are important to our communities. We are often the first to report on issues that matter, and our coverage can have a significant impact on public opinion and policy. Our stories are the ones that capture the essence of our schools and communities, and they have the power to hold authority figures accountable for their actions.

Sadly, being a brave advocate is not always easy. Many schools and universities use the process of prior review and/or prior restraint, in which administrators may inspect or censor stories before they are published. These practices undermine the independence of student journalism and threaten the role of the press in holding authority accountable. Even more concerning, some students’ work may be suppressed or outright confiscated. This is a clear violation of press freedom.

Currently, there are 16 states that ensure protection of First Amendment rights for student journalists. New Voices legislation has recently been introduced in Connecticut, Missouri, Kentucky, New York and West Virginia. Active New Voices campaigns are at work in 10 additional states. (The Student Press Law Center)

In some cases, students have faced retaliation or punishment for their reporting – such as suspension or expulsion. These reactions send a clear message of intimidation to other students, implying that their own reporting will not be tolerated. Though these practices have been restricted in a number of states, every student journalist should be guaranteed the confidence to report on issues without fear of retaliation.

Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon for student journalists in Missouri. Due to recently introduced New Voices legislation, which aims to provide legal safeguards for student journalists and their advisers, students in Missouri may soon be able to report on issues without fear or censorship or retaliation. Five states have introduced New Voices legislation so far this year – SB 440 was introduced into the Missouri Senate in January with further action pending. New Voices legislation is a crucial milestone for student journalists, as it allows them to fully exercise their First Amendment rights.

Despite any number of setbacks we may face, it is essential to remain steadfast and unwavering in our pursuit of the truth. As student journalists, we must continue to use our platform to amplify the voices of those who are often ignored or marginalized. We must speak out against harmful censorship practices, and support others if they undergo the same.

This Student Press Freedom Day, let us celebrate the power of journalism to make a difference in this world. Let us recognize the vital role that student journalists play in society, and let us commit to being bold journalists and brave advocates for change. Together, we can use our voices and our platform to speak truth to power. We are the future of journalism, and our voices matter.