The Rights of Student Journalists

Posted by Katie Minnick

It’s been something college journalists have struggled with since practically the beginning of time. How do we, as students, manage to please faculty and staff, while still practicing the First Amendment, specifically the freedom of speech? The Student Press Law Center has a College Top Ten List for suggestions for college journalists. Though this is helpful, many areas of journalism are still gray and questionable.

In the familiar Tinker vs. Des Moines case , students protested the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school. The school found offense to this and sent the students home, later suspending them. After a four-year battle with the school board, the Supreme Court found that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

In recent news, the LaSalle University Collegian, a college newspaper in Philadelphia, Pa., obeyed a faculty order while defying common newspaper principles. The newspaper wrote an investigative story on a faculty member having exotic dancers at an off-campus event. Faculty ordered the students to hold the story until the university’s investigation was completed. When the story was allowed to run, the dean of students said it must be below the fold. The newspaper editors agreed. This is what the issue looked like:

The LaSalle University Collegian- Topless Edition

The newspaper editors gave the university the finger by only printing four words above the fold: “see below the fold.”

To me, this is brilliant. It is unconventional, attention-grabbing and pure genius. I would guess that every single student on campus picked up that paper. Students were following directions, while still reporting the news. The paper later ran a staff editorial on why it made the decision to run a blank fold. The writer mentions that because the paper is funded by the university, it must follow university directions and guidelines, otherwise it could be pulled. However, the editorial also mentions that the staff writers are still real journalists, and they take their job seriously.

My only concern about this situation is that the newspaper is not only reporting the news, but making the news as well. News outlets are more concerned with the newspaper “going topless” than they are with the faculty member’s actions.

If you were the editor of this newspaper, what actions would you have taken? Were the editors right or wrong? Do you think that college journalists have or should have the same rights as professional journalists?

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5 responses to “The Rights of Student Journalists

  1. Kelly Hendricks

    I would also consider that idea brilliant. If I was the editor, I wouldn’t have thought of that but I definitely would have okay-ed the idea if it was brought up. I don’t know if they were necessarily right or wrong since what they did was controversial but they took a chance and sometimes that is what journalism is all about. And yes, I do think college journalists should have the same rights as professional journalists.

  2. I think their strategy was brilliant. I do think it was a very bold decision on the editor’s part but it obviously paid off in the end.

    Regarding censorship and laws governing journalists, I definitely think college journalists should have the same rights as professionals. Granted, they might need a bit more guidance from time to time on effectively using the power entrusted to them (let’s be honest, they’re in college to LEARN), but they should not denied the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.

  3. I completely agree Annika. I think that student journalists should have the same rights as journalists, but guidance is needed at times. I think this principle could also apply to professional journalists. Getting a fresh eye to read a story is always helpful in catching mistakes.

  4. ryanthomasaustin

    As a student journalist, I could care less about pleasing the faculty and staff of the university I attend. It is not my job to be PC, it is my job to report events as they occurred, no matter how it affects the university’s publicity in the media. I am not employed by the university, I have no obligation.

    That’s just how I feel.

  5. I was always butting heads with my principal about what was published in my high school paper. It was annoying and denying student journalists the same rights as professional journalists feels very unfair. I can begrudgingly admit that the rules can help out when it comes to student publications, but I think it would be better for young journalists to make mistakes and learn from their actions in a school setting instead of their professional one

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