North Central principal, Evans Branigan, receiving the administrator award from Diana Hadley.

By: Diana Hadley

When Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, signed a New Voices Bill into law last July, following unanimous support in the state’s House and Senate, Illinois became the tenth state to pass legislation that guaranteed student journalists additional freedom to publish without censorship.

The Indiana High School Press Association and the Indiana Collegiate Press Association added Indiana to the list of 16 other states actively pursuing New Voices legislation last summer.

Before the groups asked anyone to consider sponsoring the legislation State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany contacted Jim Lang, publications adviser at Floyd Central High School, and offered to sponsor a New Voices bill.

Clere, who has a professional journalism background, also was a high school journalist in the early1990s. He experienced the change following the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision of 1988 that provided administrators with more power to control the student press than the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines decision. Consequently, Clere has experienced the frustrations many high school journalists face today when administrators try to control content that might be controversial or shine a negative light on some aspect of the school.

In addition to sponsoring a New Voices bill, Clere has added an educational component. Five high school and five collegiate journalists have been selected to help draft the bill with the Statehouse Legislative Services Agency, meet with groups interested in the bill, and follow the bill through the legislative process. The ten students represent multiple Indiana colleges and five high schools as diverse as small rural to large suburban.

The student legislative group will meet at the Statehouse Wednesday, December 7, to begin drafting the bill and sharing information with organizations connected to the legislation.

Clere also suggested the creation a press pool of students separate from the students who draft the legislation. The pool creates a second opportunity for students who will participate as journalists covering the bill’s progress. These students will meet at Franklin College, Saturday, Dec. 10, for a workshop to study reporting for politics, interviewing, navigating the Statehouse and generating story ideas.

Although the IHSPA doesn’t represent any schools fighting large media-centered censorship battles at this time, students and advisers experience different levels of pressure. Self-censorship to avoid trouble includes student journalists who need a letter of recommendation from an administrator for a college application and don’t want to challenge the tone with newspaper coverage that isn’t appreciated.

In addition, funding and scheduling challenges give schools free reign to reduce or eliminate journalism programs and thus remove the chance for student engagement with the school community.
On a positive note, the Indiana High School Press Association has honored 19 administrators who support strong student publication programs since the Hazelwood decision. The most recent recipient, Evans Branigan, North Central High School principal, received the Louis Ingelhart “Friend of Journalism” Administrator award at the IHSPA convention Nov. 11. Two years ago controversial coverage prompted Branigan to share the following message with WISH TV:

“North Central and Washington Township have a long history of supporting student publications by not practicing “prior review” by school or district administration. In support of our student journalists, North Central administration supports its student journalists, which includes the yearbook staff. Our student editors spent considerable time carefully researching news events which are reflected in the yearbook.
When adults in our building are accused of and/or convicted of a criminal activity, it is covered (as has been part of our editorial policy for more than 20 years). This policy can be found here. We certainly understand that some will be unhappy with the decision to include or exclude certain images and events; however, North Central Administration supports its student editors.”

In regard to the student North Central High School student newspaper, Cooper J. Ochs, editor in chief, said, “Mr. Branigan has always supported us as a newspaper. He allows us to write what we see fit and is always open to do interviews and supports us through any type of criticism.”
One of the goals of the New Voices legislation is to emphasize the positive effects a strong publications program like the one at North Central can have on the entire school community.

In addition to the evaluation of scholastic journalism in a 1994 study “Journalism Kids Do Better” by Jack Dvorak, Larry Lain and Tom Dickson and its follow-up funded by the Newspaper Association of America in 2008, a recent survey of more than 900 high school journalists in Kansas and Missouri by the University of Kansas concluded, “Journalism can help students be better citizens by teaching them how to use the media tools at their disposal to better their communities.” (A summary of the entire study is available at civicsandjournalists.org.)
Additional information about New Voices legislation is available at newvoices.com and splc.org.

 

Diana Hadley is the executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association.