Student Press Freedom Day salutes college newspapers

Student Press Freedom Day (SPFD) is a day to celebrate and highlight the rights of student journalists. Both high school and collegiate journalism are important parts of learning the profession, as well as bringing a young, new perspective to storytelling and reporting. At The Ramapo News, we strive to run our publication like a professional news outlet, and we have pride in our reporting. 

Feb. 23 is the fifth annual SPFD, and the 2023 theme is Bold Journalism and Brave Advocacy. According to their website, SPFD “is a national day of action when we celebrate the contributions of student journalists and the need to support their independence without censorship or threat to their advisers. We call attention to the arbitrary and needless censorship of student journalists, and call upon elected officials to restore and protect student press freedom.”

The day was created by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit center founded in 1974 that “promotes, supports and defends the First Amendment and free press rights of student journalists and their advisers.” SPFD also falls within Scholastic Journalism Week, held Feb. 20-24. 

Supreme Court rulings and student journalist rights

Previous Supreme Court cases continue to influence the day, including the 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that limited student journalists’ rights compared to professional journalists. According to the case, “the principal of Hazelwood East High School outside St. Louis, Missouri, censored from the student newspaper a special teen issue section that included articles on teen pregnancy and the impact of divorce on students. Members of the student staff sued.”

This case remains influential to student speech cases, because “the Supreme Court… held that a high school-sponsored newspaper produced as part of a class and without a ‘policy or practice’ establishing it as a public forum for student expression could be censored where school officials demonstrated a reasonable educational justification and where their censorship was viewpoint neutral.” Student reporters expressed that their First Amendment rights were violated, but the school and court disagreed. 

Additionally, an earlier case from 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District – which the aforementioned case referenced throughout its hearing –  was monumental to all students, especially journalists, because it is used to define students’ First Amendment Rights. 

However, even with protected rights, there continues to still be a blur between what is freedom of speech and what goes against something school administration can control in its student expression. SPFD strives to encourage students to write boldly and fight for the stories they want to share, and encourage others to support their efforts as if they were professionals. 

SPFD acknowledges that “While college students face direct censorship less frequently than their high school counterparts, their First Amendment rights are too often violated in other ways. College journalists are frequently stonewalled, denied access to public information and threatened with budget cuts as forms of indirect censorship.” This stresses that student press freedom is essential on college campuses, like Ramapo, in addition to high schools. 

The Ramapo News’ policy and standards

As a student-run publication, The Ramapo News often faces a few challenges regarding our ethics and credibility. Common instances include outside sources requesting to read articles before publication, attempts to prohibit us from publishing unless we receive outside review, subjects only agreeing to interviews if they are sent the questions ahead of time and requesting an article to be changed, clarified or taken down for reasons other than factual discrepancies. 

As per The Ramapo News Policy, which is always published at the bottom of page 2, “Whenever necessary, The Ramapo News will publish corrections or clarifications in the following issues. All corrections must be brought to the attention of the editor as soon as possible. The Ramapo News strives for accuracy. In keeping with journalistic standards, pre-publication review of any article, quote or editorial is not allowed.” 

Just because we are a student-led and student-run paper does not mean we are not worthy of the same respect and integrity of professional news publications. We reserve the right to speak on behalf of the Ramapo community and embrace the student voice. Our staff continues to practice essential journalistic ethics and appreciate the values of SPLC.

We hope you join us in celebrating SPFD not only today, but throughout each school year, where we publish 11 editions each semester, composed of hard work and bold journalism.

Featured photo by Dan Sforza