Reflecting on Student Press Freedom Day

SPEAK OUT. Student journalists and their supporters across the U.S. spend this day raising awareness of the challenges they face, celebrating their contributions to their schools and communities, and taking actions to protect and restore their First Amendment freedoms. (image and text reprinted with permission from
SPEAK OUT. Student journalists and their supporters across the U.S. spend this day “raising awareness of the challenges they face, celebrating their contributions to their schools and communities, and taking actions to protect and restore their First Amendment freedoms.” (image and text reprinted with permission from
Protecting the student press

Student Press Freedom Day is Feb. 22, celebrating the impact of student journalists and advocating for the protection of their First Amendment freedoms.

This year, Student Press Freedom Day falls at an apt time; the Minnesota Senate introduced an anti-Hazelwood article of legislation on Feb. 20. If passed, the legislation will clarify student journalism freedoms, and protect advisers from administrative retaliation. Similar pieces of legislation that reverse Hazelwood exist in 17 other states.

RubicOnline staff share reflections on the impact of a free student press on their community reporting as well as the hope inspired by the New Voices bill.

Let curiosity have no limits

My experience as a student journalist has drastically increased my awareness of my First Amendment freedoms. Many good stories start with a big question. Sometimes, the first place my curiosity leads me seems off limits. Maybe the sources I need are high-profile or in positions of power. Maybe the story is sensitive and covering vulnerable subjects. One of the biggest things I have learned over my four years on staff, though, is that asking the question will never be against my rights. When the answer is no, I find myself asking why. Understanding the ins and outs of student press law empowers me to problem solve my way through tough stories. While sources can deny being interviewed, they cannot stop me from writing on the topic being addressed. The First Amendment gives me access to a variety of spaces to observe and photograph.

My greatest tools as a journalist truly are a deep awareness of my rights and an unwavering urge to ask the why’s and how’s.

New Voices legislation marks important moment for student voice

Today is Student Press Freedom Day, and just a few days ago, New Voices legislation was introduced in Minnesota, representing a push for the protection of student voices.

This proposed bill will protect student publications from censorship and is incredibly important for the countless student journalists who work hard to tell the stories of their communities.

Writing freely for a student publication gives me pride because I know I am using my voice to make a difference.

— Eliana Mann, Production Manager

Working for a publication myself, I have gained a better understanding of how valuable student voice is. There is nothing quite like writing a piece that is bold or new or even controversial and seeing it published under my name.

Writing freely for a student publication gives me pride because I know I am using my voice to make a difference. Even if it’s just telling a small, untold story, I know that I am impacting someone’s life in one way or another.

If this ability to tell stories with my own creative license was taken away from me, I know that my experience on the RubicOnline staff would look much different. There would not be the same joy in the classroom each day, nor the same excitement about cultivating a collection of narratives that we, as a group, are proud of. That is why the New Voices legislation is so crucial to the student journalism world in Minnesota and across the country.

So, on Student Press Freedom Day, I am reveling in the gratitude I have for RubicOnline and the other student journalists that I get to work alongside. I am grateful for the gift of storytelling and the opportunities I have to write about things I am truly passionate about. I am hopeful, too, for the future of student journalism in our state. I hope to see many years of students exercising their freedoms without consequence to tell the stories that need to be told.

Small publications are a necessity

If favored publications only cover global news and feature influential social and political figures, who writes about the small communities we are all a part of?

I value community journalism because it stimulates civic commitment and discourse. While keeping yourself informed about news that may not consistently pertain to you is vital, so is learning about where and who you live around. Reading an article featuring one of your peers or covering an event at your school or community space can be exhilarating.

We can access any and all information through a few clicks. With infinite information available, it is easy to forget to engage with your community. Everyday community journalism combats disengagement and disconnection, so I am proud to be part of a small community publication.

Student journalism fosters engagement, responsibility

In my journey as a student journalist, I have come to understand and increase my awareness of First Amendment freedoms. Those are “freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Like Peter Parker said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” My role as a journalist gave me the power to inform, educate, and influence public opinion. This upbringing shaped my sense of duty and gave me the responsibility to not only be an accurate reporter but also promote meaningful connections within marginalized communities to amplify all voices. Being in a small school allowed me to establish personal connections with individuals in the student body. Everyone has a voice, everyone has a story. Going around collecting quotes shaped me into a critical thinker but also a good listener. Journalism has allowed me to become involved in the school’s community. Furthermore, as a student journalist, I feel I have established my own community — the special bond between The Rubicon staff and the people.

Small community, large impact

Reporting on a small community is important to me because it is easy to track the impact of the stories we write. When someone is featured or an event is reported on, I hear or see people reading and talking about the coverage. I see people look for themselves or their peers in the photogalleries published and make comments about the actions being performed as they learn more about their classmates. When I made a video about the HerSpace dress exchange, my friend’s mom told me she had enjoyed watching it and that she was surprised as to how professional it was. I also see alumni who were last at SPA between 5 and 50 years ago commenting on social media posts and stories with their thoughts and support for the Rubicon. I think these are examples of why reporting on small communities is necessary because it is unique to have an opportunity to be able to represent so many aspects of a community and we should continue striving to cover as many different voices and perspectives from SPA because it actually does have an impact on people when they feel seen and heard.

Stories promote excitement, understanding

Reporting on the small community of SPA is very important to me and often seems necessary to me as well. Our community is not very large, so we all know each other in some way and are interested in one another. Sharing stories about our peers and seeing stories written about people close to us is often exciting and fulfilling. Everybody at SPA deserves to know what is happening in the school community. I hope everybody gets a little bit of joy whenever they see something written about the school community that is important to them. By writing about our community, students and faculty can all feel more connected as one community and share a common interest in improving our community and school. We should all be excited to learn more about our peers, share stories about things important to us, and improve the SPA community one school-based story at a time.

Student journalist experience teaches First Amendment freedoms

Being a student journalist has increased my awareness of First Amendment freedom. By knowing my first amendment rights, I know my limitations but most importantly I know what I can say and can’t be condemned for. It makes having opinions feel better. By being a student journalist, I learned how to maneuver my first amendment rights in an effective way. For example, by exercising our freedom of press, we also amplify others’ freedom of speech or protest.

Our school community is small, but there is so much diversity, maybe not racially, but SPA is ethnically diverse and diverse in other identity components. Diversity doesn’t just mean identity though. The student body is diverse in hobbies, sports, and overall experiences, and our stories reflect that diversity.

Reporting demands persistence and inclusion

Persistence is extremely important in journalism. The ability to stay curious and keep digging, going where others are unwilling to go, is crucial in reporting, and provides communities with valuable information and content that they would otherwise not have access to. One piece that required me to utilize persistence was a story about two students’ nicknames. Initially, these students were not opening up about their experience and knowledge, but by acting as a kind, trustworthy reporter, and staying in communication, I was able to talk to them again, this time learning about some really fascinating complications that nicknames can cause and how truly important they are to people.

Reporting on a small school community is important to me because it’s an opportunity to make people feel heard and to tell their story. Even within small school communities, voices get lost all too easily, which is terrible. But, good reporting works toward a more open, knowledgeable community, where everyone can feel heard and seen.

The biggest impact of my reporting, that I’ve seen, has been on those that I report on. The pride that so many people I’ve interviewed have had just because we wanted to hear and share their story, their ideas and their opinions, is what makes reporting so rewarding for me.

Press freedom benefits reporting

Student Press Freedom allows me and other student journalists to create and publish meaningful stories that have a direct impact on the community. A story that I’m really proud of, and was given freedom to write, is “Volleyball crushes the Math and Science Dragons”. Having a press badge gave me the freedom to get up close and personal with my pictures and interviews.

Getting to the core of the story through pictures and interviews gives readers, both students and parents alike, a window into each other’s worlds that they would have otherwise not seen. With such a small student body at SPA, we have a great opportunity to break down barriers with each other and become a closer school wide community.

Seeing the impact of my reporting also makes me grateful for the press freedom that I’m given. People interacting with online stories and chatting about what they read their peers did makes me confident that my writing is making a difference in how people view each other at SPA.

The New Voices Bill that advocates and protects student journalists is also very reassuring that student journalism will remain an important form of activism and community.

A year in student publications

Last year on this day, the Writing for Publications class touched the surface of what Student Press Freedom Day meant, and we also wrote segments for a class story with different court cases that changed journalism for the better on this day. Compared to then, my personal understanding of what this day means has expanded over the past year. My experience in publications has helped me understand that this day means more than just celebrating students’ ability to exercise their first amendment rights in journalism, but also recognizes the struggles and challenges student journalists had to go through over the years and are still fighting against now.

Reporting on a small school community is different compared to reporting on larger schools due to everyone knowing each other, and because we are a private school, we have different standards and rules when it comes to reporting. Since there’s less students at SPA, we are especially careful when it comes to keeping each other up to date when we go out to interviews or when assigning stories. We strive to cover a large variety of our student body in order to maintain diversity in our reporting so we can put out stories that better represent our school’s population.

Student voice holds power

As a student journalist at SPA, I use my First Amendment freedoms daily. Yet, before joining publications, I had little to no idea about the First Amendment. I knew I had free speech, but I never thought about it more. However, in Writing for Publications, one of the first things we did was memorize the First Amendment and were quizzed on it. Furthermore, we learned about the significant events that have led to the rights we possess today, such as the Hazelwood and Tinker cases. I realized that our voices hold power and can be used to spread stories and messages meaningful to those who read them. Journalism was the perfect excuse for me to get up in everyone’s business and ask them difficult questions I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask on my own. Also, I get to photograph everything and everyone, another privilege provided by journalism. Furthermore, my First Amendment rights allow me to share everything journalism lets me hear and see with others.

Student journalism is advocacy

Student Press Freedom allows me to practice powerful persistence, a skill that I have had for as long as I can remember. Many times there is stigmatization around high schoolers taking things seriously, or being able to advocate for themselves. I have experienced many of my peers as well as myself be silenced when interacting with adults about controversial topics. Student Journalism, when used, can change lives. It has the power to share impactful stories that aim to make students feel less alone. Being heard and feeling like your wants are valued is often not the case for teenagers.
In many cases adults or organizations in power censor certain topics that might be controversial or make them look bad. Social media has become so widespread in today’s society that misinformation gets spread quickly and can be severely damaging. The laws for student press freedom make it possible for me to write stories that are not censored. I am able to write with passion and make powerful claims, being continuously persistent and holding administrators or other adults accountable.

Journalism expands worldviews

Reporting on a small school community is important to me because I think that it’s the best way for students and faculty to keep up to date on events within the community and learn more about their fellow peers. It provides an opportunity for students to learn about and engage with people and events that they might not usually pay attention to, and, at times, it holds the school accountable for actions from a professional lens. It’s worthwhile to make the most of the connections students have available to them in a small school, and reporting is an excellent way to get students interested in and stay well-informed on national and international news as well as news in the community. Additionally, it’s helped me strengthen my journalistic voice and make connections and build friendships with so many new people, both on staff and off. Getting to be part of SPA’s voice through student journalism has been a fantastic way to expand my worldview — and I hope that students reading the paper have gotten as much out of our reporting as I have.

Reporting creates community

Reporting on a small school community is important to me for many different reasons. At a small school or community, often times people hear from their peers about things that happen within the community but dont fully understand or engage in these conversations and activities. By reporting on a majority of the events that happen within our community, we are able to get a better grasp of what is happening in our community and the stories behind them. I also believe that it is important to report on things happening in our community for parents, alumni, and other community members to still be connected with SPA. Reporting on a small school can bring people together by seeing events on the Rubiconline website. It can be easy to lose a sense of community even within a small one. Overall I think that reporting on a small school is vital to keeping a close-knit society, and keeping people informed on events and struggles within the school.

School communities deserve uncensored news

A refrain we often return to in the Publications Room is “if we aren’t reporting on us, who is?” The us being SPA, a community of around 400 students and faculty and families. Yes, if we aren’t reporting on the school community, no one is, and without proper student press freedom, truthful reporting is in jeopardy in a community central to many of us.

Citizens rely on large news outlets with a robust system of journalistic ethics to provide them with essential national and regional news. These publications are fiercely protected by the First Amendment and legal precedent. However, these freedoms have been called into question when reporters are students. No matter the size of a publication’s readership or the age of its writers, truthful journalism should be protected from censorship, prior review, or any silencing of speech. Many student journalists, including those on the Rubicon, follow the same systems of ethics as professional journalists. Readers deserve uncensored and truthful news for every issue that is important to them, and for many high schoolers and families, those issues exist in the school community.

Student press freedom goes beyond the challenging stories that we may expect to be censored. First Amendment freedoms apply to covering sports games, performances, and other stories that make up the SPA community. The right to report without fear is central to any newsroom, big, small, professional, or student.

Journalism sustains democracy

Reporting on a small school is essential to me because it puts a spotlight on all voices. My beat is a feature on students whom the Rubicon hasn’t interviewed yet. Following these people has led me to discover that every person has a unique voice and perspective on our school, all of which are worth sharing. The impact of these stories is primarily local, with interviewees sending their stories out to families and friends, happy to see their voice represented.

As a journalist, I have seen the importance of the First Amendment more and more. Talking to journalists further in the field, I see how they are crucial to uncovering the truths about our society and systems. Their work is a check on democracy and is essential for the functioning of democracy.

The New Voices Bill allows public schools to report uncensored. This is an important step towards furthering student journalism. It will benefit Minnesota by protecting more voices, creating a more informed citizenry. It will foster a love for journalism among students and ensure that our democracy remains strong at the smallest level.

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