The job of a journalist is to report the truth fearlessly and educate the public of the unknown. That’s how I define the crucial impact of my dream job.
But as student journalists? We must often report to a more modest degree.
“Factual statements or those that are clearly stated as opinion [by professional journalists], so long as they’re not slanderous, can’t be targeted,” said Jayna Kurlender, who has been a student journalist for three years. “Student journalists are slightly more limited because of certain administrations, but they still have the right to publish unbiased, true pieces so long as they comply with fair rules the Administration sets.”
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, public schools throughout the country must, as government-funded entities, protect their students’ rights to free speech. Private institutions, however, are independent from the government and thus have no legal obligation to do so.
Furthermore, student publications at private schools are often funded by the school, giving the Administration to censor articles of their choice. Administrators can censor controversial articles or those that may present the school in a negative light without much consequence.
“Some of my friends had to share their stories with school representatives when administrators were concerned about the content of the story,” said Jacob Fulton, who has been a student journalist for three years. “One story in particular was completely rewritten by an administrator. They told us to print that instead.”
In California, the state’s Leonard Law requires private schools to offer the same free speech rights to students as public schools do, offering journalists more legal support. Nevertheless, private schools are entitled to prioritize individual values over the First Amendment.
I was told during my five week camp at the Northwestern-Medill Journalism Institute that journalism is a calling fundamental to a functioning democracy. Reporting serves as a key supporter of America’s First Amendment; the greatest advocate of free speech.
Thus, our duty as journalists is to remain ethical regardless of what journalistic right(s) a publication or school may offer.
The Preamble of the SPJ Code of Ethics states, “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.” Those guidelines encourage journalists to remain informative and unbiased, presenting both the material and sources in an accurate light.
The SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) Code of Ethics serves as a guideline for ethical behavior that is accepted by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is used in countless newsrooms and classrooms. Seeking truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, acting independently, and being accountable and transparent serve as its main general points.
And I, as a student reporter for three different newspapers, cannot emphasize such “rules” enough.
My school newspaper, for example, promised our community to serve as a reliable medium of truth by encouraging photographers to attend every reported event to get their own action shots, encouraging writers to not “cheerlead” in sports, attributing all pulled quotes and obtained facts, and putting the news section before the opinions to ensure the facts come first.
The little bits truly do matter in journalism, especially if a reporter wants to maintain his credibility. Being suspected of or sued for libel–written defamation–or slander–spoken defamation–among other forms of unconstitutional speech can ruin a journalist’s career.
Even as student journalists with “less power,” we can still shine a positive light for our professions; hopefully even more so in today’s age of “fake news” where even the highest of officials will doubt the media’s ability to report the truth.
Jenny Huh, Grade 12