New Voices fights for student journalists’ rights

Staff Editorial

New Voices is a student-powered, nonpartisan legislative movement that focuses on protecting student press freedom with state laws. It focuses on the problem of censorship and self-censorship, which can come in many different forms, such as perceived concern due to the censorship from the administration and legislatures. This is a multi-state movement that has active campaigns in 21 states and bills that have been introduced in 14 states. 

As student journalists, it is our responsibility to bring the news to the people, give a voice to the voiceless and for people to have accountability. The fact is that news is news, no matter how it makes people feel or if it may be what people consider controversial. Stories that involve topics such as racism, politics, the LGBTQ+ community, sexism and equality are all topics that are important to student journalists but are often censored. However, “sensitive” and controversial topics are good for a community to talk about and people of all ages because it is important to learn and be aware of what is going on around you or in the world. Censorship is a way to cut off these sensitive topics completely to avoid controversy, which is never the right response to sensitive news. These censorships could come from a school principal, staff and even the school board. New Voices seek to protect student journalists’ rights from being censored and have bills set in place so that they can write about topics that some would see as unfit to touch on. Self-censorship is another problem student journalists have because it is based on the fear of what others will think or say, which stops one from writing an empowering story. The new law that New Voices is pushing for will empower more student journalists to branch out and write the story they may have been afraid of, but now without fear of backlash.  

There can be many reasons that an administration may censor articles. Some reasons they censor are to maintain reputation, funding — such as grants — and enrollment. Student journalists are taught by their advisers how to conduct quality journalism, meaning that an article will be respectful and truthful. Some of the bills that New Voices have set in place can protect advisers from backlash, but that doesn’t stop advisers from self-censoring to protect their jobs. A school newspaper is run by the students, and the advisers are there to aid or advise the process. The belief that students aren’t able to think for themselves or process sensitive topics due to their youth, is shortsighted and often leads to censorship. New Voices challenges that stereotype by protecting student journalists and restoring their power to share the stories they need to tell.

Writing a story that touches on topics people are prone to shy away from, opens a door to the community that previously had been locked. It is a journalist’s job to inform the community even if the topic may not shed the best light on the topic, and therefore we shouldn’t have to hide a story that may be beneficial to someone in the community. Everyone’s opinion matters and it deserves to be heard because when student journalists are censored the rest of the students are censored as well. New Voices is fighting for the protection of journalists that are writing the stories that open this door for the readers. Many students and community members already see certain topics all over social media, and if students talk and post about topics journalists shouldn’t be stopped from writing the story. Fake news is spread across social media every day, but student journalists dig up the facts for a story to bring the truth to the readers. New Voices is important because members pay attention to what is happening in the world of student journalism, and help legislatures recognize censorship so that the movement will continue to move in Congress. 

Even with a supportive administration, there is always a chance of change or a new administration that doesn’t approve. Freedom of the press seems to have strings attached when one thinks of censorship, but as long as a story is respectful to those involved and diligent, there is no reason for suppression. New Voice’s goal is to allow journalists to bring a voice to the voiceless and to set laws in place that protect student journalists from censorship that could prohibit someone’s voice. 

Pennsylvania’s New Voices movement was spearheaded in August 2018 by two high school publication advisers: Conestoga’s Cyndi Hyatt and Freedom’s Aaron Fitzpatrick. From there, the Conestoga’s staff met with Sen. Andy Dinniman who agreed to sponsor the Senate bill and in March 2019 the first draft of the Senate bill was complete. Conestoga and Freedom staff continued to revise the bill before finally resubmitting it to Sen. Dinniman, when in July of 2019 the draft bill became a reality as Bill 806 and co-sponsored by Senators Brewster, Browne and Muth. In January 2020, Rep. Melissa Shusterman drafted House Bill 2302, and it has since been co-sponsored by a number of her colleagues in the house. Then in January and February of 2020, the drafts for House Bill 2302 were referred to the House Education Committee, leaving Pennsylvania’s movement full speed ahead. 

There are many ways to contribute and get involved with Pennsylvania’s New Voices movement, such as contacting local legislatures. Also, visiting the Pennsylvania New Voices website is one way of contributing, along with emailing them at [email protected] to connect and learn how to be a part of the movement. The more light shed on this movement, and the more supportive organizations and people that become involved, the more likely that people are to pay attention and act on it. New Voices is a movement that supports the voices of the people, and of student journalists who write the stories that need to be heard, giving a voice to the voiceless.