Jan 22, 2007

freedom of speech for student journalists

Your local newspaper has no obligation to give you a bully pulpit, and they don't even have to publish your anti-corporate screed in the letters to the editor. You don't have the right because you don't own it.

Local papers know, though, that allowing a diverse array of viewpoints, by stoking controversy, we can smack some sense into Our Great Republic (or, at very least, the city council). The First Amendment protects that function.

It does not, however, give you a right to publish in someone else's forum.

For that reason, this proposed legislation can't match intentions and outcomes.
Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, has introduced legislation that would allow advisers to review student publications but strip them of any authority to control what is printed. Instead, students would be in charge of writing, editing and publishing — and would be liable for any fallout....

By granting students added freedoms and accountability, Upthegrove hopes to generate an appreciation for constitutional rights and give young people a sense of civic responsibility.
The Supreme Court has already been there, Upthegrove. A school newspaper isn't a public forum. It's taxpayer-funded and beholden to the greater needs of the "educational process." Thou shalt not disrupt it.

However, the disingenuous stance of the Washington Association of School Administrators bothers me, too:
If students want to voice their opinions without restraints, he suggests they turn elsewhere. Between blogs and personal Web sites, Kipp said, "There are lots of opportunities that kids have in school to express whatever they want."
Except that administrators block access to both blogs and personal websites, and have even gone after students for publishing anti-school materials at home.

It's a delicate balance, and administrators usually lean too far on the side of tyranny, afraid that controversy is in itself disruptive. A wise administrator knows when to let students take the fall.

On balance, I'd probably support the bill, even though I'm not sure how well making students liable will work when the first lawsuit rolls in. Accountability, after all, is another word for litigation.

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