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Student Press Freedom

Yesterday, Jan. 30, was Student Press Freedom Day and The New Hampshire’s staff felt it prudent to highlight the responsibility of student journalists and, in today’s political climate, how necessary it is to develop sound ethics when reporting.

University and high school news outlets are like small-scale offspring of the big media outlets and are often treated as such; grossly underappreciated, student press serves as the body’s voice but does not function as a public relations unit for the faculty or school. In truth, it is not our responsibility to protect the integrity of administration. Journalists seek to shed light, wrong or right, and reserve the right to free speech.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. A group of high school students filled a hearing room in Richmond, VA, yesterday and gave a testimony to end censorship in student publications. HB 2382 was shot down, 5-3, by VA House delegates and the bill will be revisited next year.

Press at the collegiate level is not especially empowered by the people like mainstream media but it is at least allowed its rights to free speech – unlike in U.S. high schools.

Journalism is in its most primitive and youthful form as young students develop a genuine curiosity in the truth. At the risk of sounding self-absorbed, (though I don’t report, only stamp my opinion on this page once a week) I believe reporters belong to the most honorable profession providing they maintain a sound ethical code. Censoring is a slap in the face of those passionate enough to voice themselves.

The Durham Fall 2018 enrollment census reported a 15,455-total student body at University of New Hampshire. The New Hampshire employs around 24 plus a fluctuating number of contributing writers and editors, all tasked with representing the greater population. It’s no simple feat. While it’s difficult to capture that voice, we benefit as an established entity because of our right to speak out.

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) declared 2019 the Year of the Student Journalist. What many consider ‘small-scale,’ others recognize as the foundation for a new generation of media. The SPLC sees newspapers like The New Hampshire and its writers as the future of the industry.

But press in high schools aren’t treated with the same respect. It doesn’t exist only as a stepping stool for prospective journalists before moving up to a legitimate publication. Reporting is reporting, and writers deserve recognition for the work they’re putting in more than a pat on the back and reassurance that they’re getting great practice. Meanwhile, censorship on ‘controversial’ topics persists.

Why prevent students from publishing their work? You could argue they’re young, immature; likely these papers are funded by their respective high schools who don’t want their names shown in bad light. Then why even have a school paper?

The point of a publication in an educational institution is to afford students the chance to speak when they otherwise have no voice. Unless you’re preparing these high schoolers for a world where the first amendment doesn’t exist, don’t claim to be preparing them at all while censorship persists. It’s a misplaced practice that does more harm than good.

The staff at The New Hampshire stands for preservation of free speech rights in high schools and colleges. Without it, we’re nothing at all.

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