Student Newspapers Find Free Speech Online

January 14, 2009 08:57 AM
by Christopher Coats
As more student newspapers follow the media trend toward Web-only versions, some have found the shift allows them to circumvent school control and escape censorship.

Avoiding Oversight

In the town of Faribault, Minn., one high school paper found itself shut down after it refused to present a story on the investigation of a local teacher to the school district for review.

As the publication fell under the jurisdiction of the district due to funding, the newspaper was immediately shut down, forcing the students to seek out other means of getting their articles out.

Offered a free platform by a company that hosts student publications, the young journalists were able to publish their content online beyond the reach of school administrators.

Context: Leaving traditional publishing behind

The Faribault high school newspaper's decision to move online spotlights a broader movement toward Web-only student publications, reflecting a generational shift away from traditional means of publishing.

Print versions of high school yearbooks have also seen a sharp decline in interest and production as social networking sites and other online publishing services continue to capture the interest of students accustomed to updated and connected content.

“You can actually get them to read things if you go online,” one newspaper adviser told the Knight Digital Media Center.

While the previous incarnation of the Faribault student newspaper was published only once a month, the online version will be updated on a regular basis.

Although student newspapers have moved online at the high school and college level, the Faribault case appears to be the first decision motivated not by technology, but an effort to escape the control of school administrators.

However, the shuttering of the Minnesota newspaper is hardly the first time a high school publication has run afoul of administrators due to their choice of content. In December of last year, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., student publication was banned by the school’s principal after it ran an editorial in support of gay marriage.

The frequency of such disputes in California led the state government to institute a law to protect staff advisers and the student publication. This year, lawmakers enacted the Journalism Teacher Protection Act to protect teachers from being forced to resign due to the content of student newspapers.

Citing the punishment of 15 teachers in three years for content deemed to be offensive or that cast a school or district in a negative light, lawmakers concluded that teachers needed to be protected in order to assure free speech.

Related Topic

According to the Knight Digital Media Center, another factor driving high school newspapers online is the amount of funds made available to student publications, forcing students to either seek out supplementary funding outside the school or produce a Web-only version.

This move toward online-only content reflects an industry-wide trend away from paper versions of publications and toward Web-only versions. In the last year alone, several metropolitan and international newspapers, unable to cope with the competition of online services and loss of traditional means of revenue, have either abandoned their paper editions or closed entirely—one notable example being The Christian Science Monitor, which will cease publication of its print version in April 2009.

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