The All State’s Newsroom in room 120 of the Morgan University Center. The All State file photo. | THE ALL STATE

The role of student journalists is an important part of journalism, and it isn’t always treated like one.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, is the sixth annual Student Press Freedom Day, created by the Student Press Law Center. It’s a day meant to highlight the contributions and challenges of the student press and protect student journalist’s First Amendment rights. 

So why should anyone care about the rights of student journalism?

As student journalists, we are uniquely equipped to be a voice for APSU. We care about the school we attend and want the best for it. 

It’s important to us that students, faculty, and staff know that they can come to us, and we’ll listen to them without judgment. Among journalists, we provide a unique perspective that others simply can’t. We exist to be a voice for our community. 

Student journalists can and do report on serious issues, like student protests, racist or sexist incidents, discrimination and others. When covering topics of this magnitude, it’s more important than ever to fight to safeguard our First Amendment rights. 

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988), which determined that certain content in student newspapers could be censored by school officials, student journalists have weaker First Amendment protections than professional journalists. 

Currently, just 16 states have laws restoring these rights to student journalists. In others, including Tennessee, student journalists are vulnerable to censorship. When it doesn’t come directly or through prior restraint, it could come through restricting access to information or through punitive budget cuts. 

While the work we do is important, we aren’t protected the way professional journalists are. What we do should be protected speech under the First Amendment, but in most states, it isn’t. 

Without these rights, student journalists cannot serve their audience. They can’t shed light on school operations, they can’t act as a watchdog toward school officials, and they can’t elevate voices that the school won’t allow. 

Student press freedom is as important as professional press freedom and as freedom of speech. For freedom of speech to be protected, it must apply to student journalists too. 

The fight for free speech isn’t over until no journalist faces censorship for their work, and this Student Press Freedom Day, we at The All State will make our voices heard.