TAJE

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New Voices Needs Your Support

After details emerged following the media storm that swept the state and nation following the Prosper ISD student press censorship allegations in May, journalism advisers in Texas have turned their ears — and their voices — toward the attention they believe is long overdue. Friends of scholastic journalism are speaking out about student press rights in Texas, or the lack thereof.

Finally, the public is taking notice.

Partner organizations around the country took action — most notably, the Student Press Law Center, which drafted a comprehensive letter to Prosper ISD administration, condemning the censorship, strict editorial prior review policy and the contract non-renewal of a veteran adviser. The Texas Association of Journalism Educators sent its own letter to Prosper as well, echoing those sentiments. And although the letters served as both a targeted censure toward a campus principal and a message to all who may try to quash scholastic press rights, its effect regrettably may fade with the next news cycle.

The situation in Prosper sparked dialogue across the country, bringing to the front the real issue at hand: the 1988 Hazelwood ruling itself, the power it gives to campus administrators, and the often vague and heavy-handed ways in which some principals choose to interpret it.

Calling out administrators when they appear to overstep is one way — and a very strategic one — to keep the issue of student press rights in the spotlight.

Here’s another: although it is the largest state journalism educator association in the nation, the Texas Association of Journalism Educators has a long road ahead in using the recent events to re-ignite a campaign for student press freedom by championing the New Voices legislation. The bill stalled in committee during the last legislative session and is expected to be reintroduced when lawmakers return in January. TAJE wants to make 2019 the year we #CureHazelwood in the Lone Star State.

Until then, we’ve got work to do. And here’s how you can help:

  1. READ UP: The rules that govern student press rights in Texas can be confusing and often vague. What is a “legitimate pedagogical concern” anyway? Administrators interpret this language in a wide spectrum of ways, sometimes at the expense of a free student forum. Advisers and their students must act with informed decision-making. That starts with doing your homework. Check out our collection of resources below to help you and your students know your rights and how to defend them.

  2. SPEAK UP: For every story on the nightly news about a case of student press censorship, dozens go unheard and unacknowledged. Talk with us about any censorship, prior review or prior restraint concerns you have at your school. Do your students face any administrative control? We need to curate as many testimonies from students and their advisers in order to provide overwhelming evidence to the legislative committee that instances in Prosper are more than just isolated outliers. We need a wealth of examples if we as journalism advisers are going to see true student press freedom in our lifetime.

  3. TALK IT UP: Communicate with other advisers who may be new to the dynamic world of coaching student journalists. Everyone who does this job could use help straddling the tightrope of serving as both district employee and champion for their students’ voices. TAJE welcomes the tough conversations and solicits input from both green teachers and seasoned vets. We also encourage all educators to open up candid, informed dialogue with campus and district administrators about the role of the student press at their school. Join our “New Voices Advisers of Texas” Facebook group as well. Encourage your students to like the “New Voices of Texas” Facebook page and connect with young journalists across the state. We all must take up the ambassadorship of New Voices if it has any hope of succeeding.

  4. GIVE IT UP: And by this we mean giving your students the control to make editorial decisions — if you’re not already — and to learn from the consequences of them. We encourage advisers to serve as the discerning counsel for their students. But your programs will only succeed in a New Voices state if it is students doing the speaking. If Texas hopes to pass a bill allowing press freedom, student journalists across the state must display poised professionalism and ethical leadership showing they’re capable of not only the rights but also the responsibilities it requires. That starts with us. We journalism teachers must advocate, rally and amplify the student element of school publications. Nothing short of the future of our democracy depends upon it.

At its core, TAJE gains its strength as an organization only through the unrelenting work of its members, represented by an elected board and regional representatives. We as an organization must do a better job educating students on their rights and the many limits to them. We must do better coaching advisers on how to handle prior review and censorship situations before they arise, not just after. We must do better in educating and working with school administrators on handling tough or sensitive topics so the student press isn’t silenced.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. When can you start?

Reach out to us here through the adviser and student surveys.

I’m a young journalist in a Texas school, and I’d like to help make Texas a New Voices state.

I’m an adviser in a Texas school and/or a friend of scholastic journalism and I’d like to help make Texas a New Voices state.

Know your stuff

Brand new to advising in Texas? Don’t know where to start on scholastic press rights? The Student Press Law Center is your first stop for comprehensive material on the subject. Start here on their Top Ten High School FAQs.

Dig into the many resources JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights website has to offer. Advisers can find lessons about press rights, updates about New Voices across the nation and guidelines to help your school get talking about it.

The TAJE Board

Contact us at board@taje.org

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