Student press freedom: know your limits
By CAITLIN WILLIAMS
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” Thomas Jefferson said, who brought into light the importance of press in the early history of our country. What would Jefferson say now looking at the press of student newspapers as well as nationwide newspaper publications of today?
Even though student newspapers do not reach as wide of a readership as newspapers such as the New York Times, they still face the same problems and limitations as popular print news sources.
All news sources and journalists are protected with the right to freedom of the press and even with that supposed freedom comes boundaries.
The boundaries that journalists must acknowledge are blurry as to where the lines are drawn- even more so for student journalists.
With the importance of a free press comes an even more stressed purpose of telling the factual truth as much as possible. This purpose must be held to the same standards in both large news publications as well as smaller publications such as student-run newspapers.
“The role of the student press is meant to inform the student body- but not just about what’s going on on-campus, but also what’s going on off-campus,” said Dr. Clarence Tweedy, a UMW Associate Professor of English.
If student newspapers are important to educational communities, then why are they facing more limitations than bigger newspaper publishers?
“There’s more of an expectation of journalists out in the real world to publish things that are controversial without too much consequences. Students aren’t able to do that,” said UMW sophomore Abigail Whittington.
In a recent article published by the New York Times, faculty advisor of the campus newspaper at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Ed Egan, was fired for publishing an article written by two of his student journalists that “quoted the university’s president likening struggling freshmen to bunnies that should be drowned,” said The New York Times.
The president made this comment in regards to his plan to lower the retention rate of the university. “The decision, along with other recent punishments of faculty members at Mount St. Mary’s, has triggered outrage well beyond its rural campus in Northern Maryland, earning condemnation from thousands of academics across the country as well as national monitors of academic and journalistic freedom,” said The New York Times.
“As a public figure, you should know that you need to watch your tongue. It’s a reporters job to expose the truth and the true characters of those public figures,” said Whittington.
The publishing of this article exemplified the students’ ability to free press; but yet the reaction made by the university to the story saying that the advisor was “disloyal” proved that there are limitations and certain ethics that the students unknowingly violated. But these ethics are not explicit. This hidden code of ethics is not the same to any two schools or any two students.
“I think since we are students, we aren’t taken seriously and we can be pushed over more easily. As students we don’t really have power. People in the school administrations have a sort of leverage over the students,” said Whittington.
The inequality that can be seen between large news publications and small student-run news publications is one of the biggest problems student newspapers face today. “A fair press is the heart of a democracy,” said Tweedy.
Will student newspapers ever have the same free press views as large news publications? Will the students’ views and opinions ever be taken seriously?
The generations of students are the future generation of this world. Yet, the word of that generation is undermined and seen as immature. Students haven’t seen the world and don’t know what’s going on ‘out in the real world’ so their opinions are ignored.
When students have something important to say, an important viewpoint, they are laughed at. If we are the future, why are we forgotten, laughed at, and undermined with every opinion we say?