Staff Ed: Virginia General Assembly should pass bill to protect student journalists
By THE BLUE AND GRAY PRESS EDITORIAL BOARD
Journalists are not strangers to censorship, especially when it comes to student journalism. Students are often subjected to censorship when their stories are unflattering towards school administration or address controversial topics. But on Monday, a new bill will be proposed to the Virginia General Assembly. House Bill 2382, also known as the New Voices Bill, has been proposed by Del. Chris Hurst (D-Montgomery), a former journalist. This bill could change everything for student journalists.
This bill aims to protect student journalists from censorship. It says, “except in certain limited circumstances, a student journalist at a public elementary or secondary school or public institution of higher education has the right to exercise freedom of speech and the press in school-sponsored media, including determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media.”
The Blue & Gray Press faced its own challenges of censorship when we were initially denied funding for the 2018-19 school year. An important part of this bill is that it would protect student publications from censorship by administration even if they are financially supported by their schools. It also protects students regardless of whether the stories in question were “produced in conjunction with a course or class in which the student is enrolled.”
According to the Student Press Law Center, similar New Voices bills have been passed in 14 states, and have been proposed this year in Nebraska and New York as well as Virginia.
This bill is important to student journalists across Virginia because it will allow them to publish controversial stories without fear of losing financial backing or retaliation from administration. Universities should value the freedom of the student press because journalism is a key part of our democracy, and participating in it teaches students incredible life lessons and skills they can take into a career even if they do not plan on becoming journalists.
Students learn how to perform research, conduct interviews, carry out extensive investigations, form educated opinions, and write in a professional manner. Student journalists have exposed wrongdoing in school settings and have been able to enact positive change in their schools. A free student press benefits the entire student body.
The Blue & Gray Press calls upon the Virginia General Assembly to pass HB #2382. This bill will benefit not only students, but democracy as a whole, by defending and supporting students’ freedom of the press.