In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that destroyed First Amendment rights for student journalists all over the country. Thankfully, in 1992, the Kansas Legislature passed the Kansas Student Publications Act, overruling Hazelwood and granting protection to student journalists from administrative censorship.
Before the KSPA, student journalists could be censored based on opinions from administrators. Stories involving real news, such as sexual assault or violence, could be removed from school-sponsored publications, degrading the quality of publications and taking away an opportunity to learn a real part of reporting.
In journalism, you can’t say, “Oh we shouldn’t cover this attempted assassination of the president because people who don’t like violence might get mad at us.” That is news. It is the right, and duty, of a journalist — student or otherwise — to provide information to the public.
Sometimes things people maybe don’t want to hear or see is what they really need to hear and see. The decision to cover something controversial is up to the journalists and should be based on their professional opinions and ethical views.
Although Kansas has made positive moves for student journalists’ rights, according to the Student Press Law Center there are still more than 35 states that have no legislation to counteract the 1988 Supreme Court ruling. Not only that, but most legislation like that of Kansas — as well as five other states with current laws — only protects high school journalists, not college students. Only five states have laws protecting all students involved with any type of student journalism.
This is something that needs to change, and it will require people stepping up to the plate and calling for further legislation to protect students at all levels of journalism. First Amendment rights apply to all journalists, not just professional ones.