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Training real journalists E-mail
Opinion
Thursday, 05 October 2017 09:12


A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal



After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 1988 ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier — which maintained that censoring student journalism was acceptable — Susan Massy says she started to see her students “do more self-censorship in fear of what might happen.” Massy is a journalism adviser at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, and she recalls her disappointment in the ruling: “I have never felt so defeated.” But she didn’t allow this feeling to prevent her from fighting for press freedom for Kansas students.

Thanks to the work of lawmakers, education advocates, students and high school teachers like Massy, Kansas became one of the few states in the U.S. to pass legislation that provides robust protections for student journalists 25 years ago. Gov. Joan Finney signed the Kansas Student Publications Act in 1992, which ensured that “The liberty of the press in student publications shall be protected. School employees may regulate the number, length, frequency, distribution and format of student publications. Material shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.” The act also states that students “are responsible for determining the news, opinion, and advertising content of such publications.”

Eric Thomas is the executive director of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, and he recently spoke about the Student Publications Act to a crowd of students, teachers and administrators representing more than 70 schools: “This legislation protects you, the student journalists of Kansas.” But it also protects the rest of us. Kansans should be proud to live in a state that recognizes the indispensable role of vigorous journalism at every level — particularly at a time when our national discourse is becoming more Balkanized, false information is spreading like a disease online and faith in the media is collapsing.

According to the most recent data from Gallup, only 27 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. Some people may argue that the media deserves its unpopularity, but this is an attitude that wedges a diverse array of institutions — many of which do tremendous, scrupulous work every day — into the same box of condemnation. To appreciate the difference between real journalism and the fake news that fills websites like Russia Today and Alex Jones’s Infowars, all you need to do is read a story that was published in Pittsburg High School’s Booster Redux in April.

When a group of Pittsburg students discovered that their incoming principal (Amy Robertson) had lied about her credentials, they exposed her. Unified School District 250 had already decided to hire Robertson (at $93,000 per year), so the students’ investigative work was all that prevented a verifiable fraud from becoming their new principal. Connor Balthazor is a senior who was on the team that published the story about Robertson, and he explains how Superintendent Destry Brown reacted to their discoveries: “He was hoping we would write a nice story. Three times he assured us there was nothing to see. Three times he was wrong.”

The U.S. is facing an epistemological crisis — as the media becomes more diffuse and politicized, it’s essential that we train the next generation of truth tellers as rigorously and realistically as we can. By allowing students to produce real journalism, Kansas has contributed to this project in a tangible and sustainable way.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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