Press Autonomy Amplifies Power of Youth Engagement

The first amendment of the United States Constitution enshrines the freedom of the press as a value of democracy. The reason why the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right to assemble are all protected by the first amendment is that these rights allow people to criticize their government in order to bring about progress. When the government denies people these rights, it undermines democracy.

In his essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Noam Chomsky wrote, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak truth and expose lies.” However, if we leave the quest for truth to intellectuals, the truth will remain hidden from most people. Unlike academics, journalists have the ability to convey important news and ideas effectively to people in an accessible way. It is the responsibility of journalists to serve as messengers in the quest for truth. They cannot do this if they are censored. Student journalists have the unique capacity to affect positive change in education, an essential part of our democracy. Students are the greatest stakeholders in their own education, yet they lack avenues to affect meaningful changes in their education.

Officials elected by adult community members and administrators have enormous power over students. Administrators occasionally forget about the needs of students, not because they don’t care for us, but because they are so caught up in all the tasks they must complete on a daily basis. Student journalists remind them why they chose to work in education: to better students’ lives for the common good. Student journalists must criticize their school administration, because no one else is in a position to do this effectively. Even students in elected leadership positions are easily ignored by administrators.

The voice of one student, however assertive they may be, pales in comparison to the words written on the pages of a newspaper, which administrators know will reach thousands. Students cannot raise awareness about issues in their communities through their school newspapers if administrators censor them. Student newspapers must be independent from their school administration in order to effectively provide oversight. This autonomy is what enables student publications to act as platforms where student voices are amplified and acknowledged.

The Jacket has acted as a voice for students struggling with a myriad of issues on campus, and has provided representation for those seeking to enact change. Student journalists across the country do the same kind of work in their communities. The National Journalism Education Association (NJEA) gives out their Student Journalist Impact Award to recognize their contributions to their communities. In 2015, the NJEA awarded two Davis High School HUB reporters, Kellen Browning and Grace Richey, for highlighting their school’s “lack of a proper facility for student lunch and activities.” Their district board of education addressed this problem following the publication of their work. In 2016, the NJEA awarded Malvern Preparatory School’s Blackfriar Chronicle reporter Justice Bennett for his insightful coverage of a suicide, which “resulted in suicide-prevention training at his school.” If school administrators had censored these student journalists, they would not have had the chance to bring the same degree of awareness and action to such critical issues.

It is imperative that the value of free student press be recognized. The tradition of journalism is in crisis because of financial and political pressure, as well as the contentious commentary surrounding “fake news.” However, as many prominent figures have shrewdly observed, we need journalists more than ever.

In order to reunite this divided nation, it is crucial that journalists are empowered to foster meaningful discourse. Young people who grow up with free student journalism become conscious consumers, an ideal of growing importance in this age of unmediated online content. In the absence of free student journalism, young people are growing up without the vital experience of analytical discourse on social problems.

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