Posts Tagged ‘Chris Hurst’


Virginia lawmakers kill legislation to protect student journalists

Editor’s note: This week, Virginia lawmakers killed a measure to strengthen First Amendment rights for student journalists. Other states (including Maryland) have passed similar legislation as part of a New Voices movement. Capital News Service at Virginia Commonwealth University gave permission for its work to be posted here.

01/28/2019

By Saffeya Ahmed/Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — A legislative panel rejected a bill protecting student journalists from administrative censorship on a tie vote Monday.

House Bill 2382, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, would have protected free speech for student journalists in public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as public institutions of higher education.

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the bill after hearing testimony from students and faculty advisers from high schools and colleges across the commonwealth.

Kate Carson, a former writer and editor for The Lasso, the student newspaper at George Mason High School in Falls Church, said her school’s administration censored several controversial topics the publication attempted to cover, including bathroom vandalism, absence policy abuse and a sexting scandal.

“As student journalists, we were perfectly positioned to report on these issues and separate fact from rumor,” Carson said. “Instead, The Lasso was censored when we attempted to cover the vandalism and policy abuse. We didn’t even attempt to cover the sexting scandal.”

One teacher told the panel how her students’ paper was shut down and she was removed as adviser after the students published an article about renovating the school.

“We have seen an increasing number of censorship cases in the commonwealth,” said Hurst, a former anchor for WDBJ, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke. He said the bill seeks to reapply the Tinker standard to student free speech, which was established in a 1969 Supreme Court case. This standard requires administrators to have reasons for censoring content, Hurst said.

Del. Chris Hurst (photo by Saffeya Ahmed)

In 1988, the Tinker standard was overruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which laid out that school administrations have the right to censor school-sponsored media if they wish.

“All this bill does is protect against what we call the ‘making the school look bad censorship,’ the image-motivated censorship,” said Frank LoMonte, former executive director of the Student Press Law Center and head of the New Voice Initiative, a campaign network for anti-censorship laws. “Anything a school can stop you from saying on a T-shirt or ball cap, they can stop you from saying in a newspaper.”

Frank LoMonte speaking to the subcomittee (photo by Saffeya Ahmed)

Two people voiced concerns with the legislation, saying the protections should not apply to school-sponsored speech or to young student journalists.

“We’re not talking about an 18- or a 19-year-old; we’re talking about possibly a 14- or 15-year-old writing a story,” said Thomas Smith of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “There are many instances in the code where they treat college students and post-secondary students different from secondary students.”

The legislation would have protected “school-sponsored media,” which includes any material “prepared, substantially written, published or broadcast” by student journalists and is distributed or available to the student body. The bill prohibited administrative censorship or disciplinary action unless content:

  • Is libelous or slanderous material
  • Unjustifiably invades privacy
  • Violates federal or state law
  • Creates or incites students to create a clear and present danger

If HB 2382 had passed, Virginia would have been the 15th state to provide protections for high school or college journalists. Half of the states that have passed similar legislation to Hurst’s bill did so in the last four years. Five other states introduced bills in 2019 to protect student journalists.

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From the annual reports (campus)

Nine campus chapters in Region 2 submitted regional reports this year. Here are some highlights from those reports. Thanks to all for their great work in keeping SPJ and journalism strong.

Elon University

• The chapter did very good work (This is my editorializing here, but it’s true…) in hosting an excellent regional conference this year. There were many strong, interesting sessions, as well as a terrific silent auction, which hadn’t been held at a regional conference in several years.

George Mason University

• A lengthy list of programs for the years includes speakers from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico, Google and several other organizations.

• Two chapter members helped plan an Oxford Style debate by the university’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run think tank.

• The chapter worked on a U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program in which nine Chinese journalists talked about journalism in the United States.

High Point University

• The chapter held a First Amendment Free Food Festival, with a “dictator” dealing with “fake news.”

• Showed “Spotlight,” followed by a discussion.

James Madison University

• Hosted an event with Chris Hurst, a former TV news anchor whose girlfriend and colleague, Alison Parker, was shot and killed while she was on the air. Parker was a JMU alum.

• Hosted five staff members from the local newspaper to talk about their professional experiences, including ethical dilemmas.

• Screened “The Paper,” a documentary about a student newspaper at Penn State University, followed by a discussion of diversity in the workplace, particularly in publishing

University of Maryland

• The biggest program of the year was a panel discussion called “Post-Election Media Landscape,” held in D.C. so other pro and campus SPJ chapters and other journalists could participate. It was streamed live on Facebook.

• The chapter worked with other student organizations on campus on programs, including debate watch parties with the College Democrats and College Republicans. Another, with Terps for Israel, was a program with the first Israeli Arab news presented on Hebrew-language Israeli TV.

• Screened “Tickling Giants,” a film about a journalist commonly known as the Egyptian Jon Stewart for his satire show.

Virginia Commonwealth University

• Also screened “Tickling Giants”

• Co-sponsored a lecture by retired CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews on the friction between President Donald Trump and the media

• Held a discussion during Native American Indian Heritage Month about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the importance of Native Americans in journalism

Washington & Lee University

• Hosted Victoria Reitano, who spoke about “You, Inc. Using Google to be Your Own Boss.”

• The most well attended event was a session on getting jobs after graduation, with tips on presenting yourself and preparing for interviews.

• The chapter supported two ethics institutes hosted by the journalism department. The speakers were NPR executive Keith Woods and Jill Geisler, the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago.

Western Carolina University

• The top program was a “One Night Stand,” in which journalism and English students created a zine, without the help of any technology.

• Two chapter officers held workshops on using social media professionally and how to cover hot-button issues.

• Held a social event with the campus chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America.

Salisbury University

• Organized a program with David Burns, an associate professor, on overseas and international journalism.

• Held a First Amendment Free Food Festival. Students had to sign in to get pizza on the top floor of the new library, agreeing to give up their First Amendment rights.

• Worked with student media organizations to hold the school’s first media awards ceremony

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