Posts Tagged ‘Student Press Law Center’


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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SPJ overhaul, election, Journalist on Call, and more

One of the most significant parts of this year’s SPJ national conference was a radical change in the society’s governance.

The SPJ board will drop from 23 members this year to 9 members in 2019. The board no longer will be elected to represent parts of the country (12 regions across the country) or certain constituencies. It will be a smaller, more nimble board, elected because of expertise. Seven members of the new board will be elected; two more will be appointed after the election, filling gaps in voices or expertise.

This page explains the bylaws change in more detail.

I supported the overhaul, for a number of reasons. It makes sense to remove regional directors (who will be called “regional coordinators”) from the board and have them concentrate on working with their local chapters. Until now, they were the only board members with dual roles; often, one role suffered at the expense of the other.

Convention delegates approved the bylaws change 86-14. Some of the opposition was from students objecting to the elimination of student representative positions on the board. It’s a legitimate concern, but the board (thanks largely to the advocacy of Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs Sue Kopen Katcef) is required to appoint a campus voice (student or faculty) to the board if one is not elected.

Another good feature of the new structure is the creation of a seven-person nominating committee to recruit good candidates. This will be an improvement on the current process, which falls on the shoulders of the past president.

The transition to the board structure will happen over a two-year period. The board probably will have 14 members next year, then 9 the following year.

The Press Club of Long Island, worried about future representation for chapters, proposed an amendment that would have guaranteed having at least one regional coordinator every year on the new board.

The current board did not support this proposal. I was against it because it reverted back to the representational model in a way that wasn’t necessary. Every year, almost every member of the national board came up through involvement in a chapter.

Delegates defeated the PCLI amendment 76-27.

A separate proposal to change the new board to 11 members instead of 9 members also was defeated. The vote was 67-39.

*****

Convention delegates also approved resolutions:

• Condemning “corrosive actions and words of the Trump administration toward the news media and journalists”

• Denouncing a culture in which governments prohibit “public employees and private experts from communicating with reporters”

• Praising the Student Press Law Center’s work on New Voices legislation guaranteeing broader free press rights for students in several states

• Commending journalists covering hurricanes Harvey and Irma, even as their offices, studios and homes flooded

• Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act

• Thanking Executive Director Joe Skeel and Associate Executive Director Chris Vachon, both of whom are leaving SPJ for other jobs, and thanking the rest of the staff.

*****

This year, five SPJ races for the national board were contested, including an unusually high seven people vying for one at-large seat. The results were:

• President-elect:

  • J. Alex Tarquinio – 780 (winner)
  • Jason Parsley – 224

• Secretary-treasurer: Patricia Gallagher Newberry – 921 (unopposed)

• At-large director (one seat):

  • Alex Veeneman – 98
  • Elle Toussi – 171
  • Randy Bateman – 51
  • Melissa Allison – 123
  • Michele Boyet – 188
  • Lauren Bartlett – 230 (winner)
  • Mikal Belicove – 70

• Campus representative (two seats)

  • Rahim Chagani – 404 (winner)
  • Kathy Rosenhammer – 270
  • Marivel Guzman – 82
  • Haley Harding – 565 (winner)

• Vice president for campus chapter affairs

  • Sue Kopen Katcef – 583 (winner)
  • Keem Muhammad – 397

• Campus adviser at large: Jeff South – 868 (unopposed)

• Region 2 director: Andy Schotz – 110 (unopposed)

• Region 3 director: Michael Koretzky – 68 (unopposed)

• Region 6 director: Joe Radske – 34 (unopposed)

• Region 10 director:

  • Ethan Chung – 45 (winner)
  • Don Meyers – 24

• Region 11 director: Matt Hall – 131 (unopposed)

• Region 12 director: Kelly Kissel – 50 (unopposed)

Total votes: 1,039 (which is probably about 14 percent)

*****

SPJ board meeting, Sept. 6, 2017

• Staffing report: Executive Director Joe Skeel, Associate Executive Director Chris Vachon, Fundraising Coordinator Katie Hunt and Director of Education Scott Leadingham all are leaving their positions. Skeel will stay the longest, through Dec. 1. A development manager and an education manager will be hired, with some different responsibilities than the current positions have. The communication intern position has been extended from one year to two years.

• Inactive chapters: The board approved a recommendation to inactivate several pro and campus chapters (none in Region 2).

  • Pro: Milwaukee Pro, Inland Northwest Pro
  • Campus: Boston U., Brockport College, Canisius College, Franklin Pierce U., Winthrop U., Kent State U., Wayne State College, Western Michigan U., DePauw U., Franklin College, Indiana U.-Purdue, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, U. of Central Missouri, U. of Missouri, Abilene Christian U., Baylor U., SMU, TCU, U. of Oklahoma, Utah State U., Seattle U., U. of Idaho, U. of Oregon, Cal State U.-Long Beach.

• A committee has recommended changes to Quill magazine, including:

  • Cut from six issues to four issues per year, with additional updates on the website
  • More in-depth, themed stories
  • Limit news about chapters and SPJ HQ to the website
  • Have students participate more

• The board voted unanimously that a $52,000 donation from the state of Hillary Wiggin shall go to the First Amendment Forever Fund

• The board approved a spending policy. The proposal that came to the board said: “Executive Committee approval is required to pay for any services costing $3,000 or more unless the full board previously authorized the expense.” After some debate, the board raised the threshold to $5,000 and approved the policy 17-6. Board members who voted against were: Bill McCloskey, Rebecca Baker, Lynn Walsh, Paul Fletcher, Joe Radske and Rachel Wedding McClelland.

• The board went into executive session to talk about plans for hiring a new executive director.

*****

SDX Foundation board meeting, Sept. 6, 2017

The main item on the agenda was for the Journalist on Call. It’s a proposed new staff position, to be defined in more detail later.

It might be an expert who could be available for journalists and news organizations with an immediate need, such as a legal or ethical problem. It might be a clearinghouse of information, connecting people to resources they need. It might be someone to promote journalism and credibility to the public.

Attempts to get outside grant funding have been unsuccessful, so the board considered whether to fully fund the position with SDX money. The projected budget was about $120,000 a year, including salary, benefits and travel, for three years.

Some possible savings to help reach that budget included: salary savings through staffing changes, eliminating three JournCamps, eliminating on-demand video training, and printing Quill less often.

SDX board member Sally Lehrman proposed cutting the position to one year as a trial, to be developed further. The board opposed that idea.

Lehrman also proposed increasing the budget from $120,000 a year to $180,000 a year, which passed.

The final vote on creating the Journalist on Call position with a budget of $180,000 a year was 17-6 in favor. Board members who voted against the motion were: Todd Gillman, Kelly Hawes, Jane Kirtley, Al Leeds, Mac McKerral and one other person who I missed in my notes.

• The SDX Foundation board also approved the recommendations for changing Quill magazine (see above). The only vote against was by Al Leeds.

• The board approved adding April Bethea, Robyn Davis Sekula and Michael Bolden to the board. It also approved having Paul Fletcher continue to serve on the board.

*****

SPJ board meeting, Sept. 10, 2017

• There were three nominations for two spots on the board’s Executive Committee. Matt Hall, with 15 votes, and Jane Primerano, with 11 votes, were elected to the committee. Lauren Bartlett had 10 votes.

• Incoming President Rebecca Baker said she was appointing four people to the SDX Foundation board: J. Alex Tarquinio, Lynn Walsh, Joe Radske and Andy Schotz.

• The board approved Matt Hall and Bill McCloskey for the board’s Finance Committee.

• The board reviewed a draft of a job description for advertising the position of executive director.

• Baker announced that the board will have additional meetings during the year, besides the spring meeting and the meetings at the national convention. The additional meetings will be in November, January and July.

• Executive Director Joe Skeel said three people were chosen for the new position of at-large delegate representing SPJ members who don’t belong to chapters. Two attended the convention from Region 11. A third person, from Region 3, had to cancel.

Celebrating ‘Tinker v. Des Moines School District’

If you’re a First Amendment fan (a given) and you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, you’ll want to be at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.

That’s when the Tinker Tour rolls through the District.

Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she and some other young students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore armbands to school as a silent statement about the Vietnam War. Administrators tried to force the students to remove the armbands, which led to a challenge in the court system. Ultimately, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the armbands were free speech; the students won.

This fall, Tinker and attorney Mike Hiestand – who won SPJ’s First Amendment Award in 2012 – have been criss-crossing the country to talk about free speech and a free press.

The tour is supported by the Student Press Law Center.

The Nov. 6 event will be part of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society’s Leon Silverman Lecture Series.

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