With the role and the performance of journalists coming under question nationally, Hoosiers should support legislation that will improve the educational experience for high school and collegiate students learning the responsibilities of journalism in a democratic society.
The Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana Collegiate Press Association and Indiana High School Press Association all support the New Voices legislation — House Bill 1130 — that will strengthen student press freedom in Indiana.
The legislation authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, gives aspiring high school and collegiate journalists the opportunity to learn how to craft accurate and fair stories that concern their school communities. They learn the importance of using credible sources, how to fact-check, and take into account community standards.
High school publications advisers have to be certified to take on the responsibility of guiding the students in this educational process. The Student Press Law Center has not been able to locate one lawsuit where a plaintiff has been awarded damages for a story written by a student journalist in any state that has passed New Voices legislation, which covers an accumulated 170 years of legal action when you add how many years each of those states have operated under these laws.
Students learn that with freedom of speech comes responsibility. The five students who testified before the House Education Committee in favor of H.B. 1130 understand the ramifications of taking on greater freedom and they prefer that responsibility to operating under a system where a principal or superintendent can censor a story because it’s critical of a school board decision or building policy or fails to put the school in the most favorable light.
Repeatedly, studies have shown students involved in journalism academically perform better both in their high school and collegiate careers. Even students who aren’t part of a robust journalism program benefit from the work done.
Student publications frequently dispel the rumors around an incident that explode like wildfire on social media. This responsible reporting helps teach all students the differences between journalism, social media postings or cable “news” programming that fails to delineate between opinion and fact-reporting.
The IHSPA can even document how a high school publication’s story about binge drinking by teenagers saved a life in the Mooresville community.
While H.B. 1130 allows students to learn how to write and report news, advisers and school administrators still have the ability to step in if the students cross a line with a story that is libelous, violates state or federal law, incites students to commit unlawful acts, would disrupt the operation of the school or is gratuitously profane.
That’s not the case with student speech on social media platforms.
As House Education Committee chair Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said prior to the committee’s 13-0 vote for H.B. 1130, “[I] know that if we don’t give students the voice and the ability to communicate, they have the ability to go on social media and all sorts of other avenues that could be much more inappropriate. This way, we have the ability to have students who really are focused and, I think, will do an effective job. We had a great number of students, who I think really shared a lot of passion and shared their desire to really see this move forward. So I appreciate Rep. Clere bringing this forward to the committee.”
After it passed out of committee, the full Indiana House of Representatives voted 88-4 in favor of H.B. 1130. It now moves to the Indiana Senate where Sens. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, and Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, are the bill’s sponsors.
Support for student press freedom literally stretches from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan.
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information, an understanding of how the First Amendment works and its role in a democratic society is crucial. H.B. 1130 is a step forward in educating today’s youth in how to be responsible citizens.
Authors of this column are Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association; Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association; and Adam Maksl, executive director of the Indiana Collegiate Press Association.