Celebrating Student Press Freedom


Student Press Freedom Day gives student journalists an opportunity to learn about student censorship and the importance of student press freedom for student-led news in the U.S.. Created in 2018 by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), Student Press Freedom Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1988 Supreme Court decision in the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier case. This ruling established that public school administrators would have some rights to censor student publications because students did not have the complete protection of freedom of speech. The SPLC works to protect student publications and journalists from the consequences of this ruling by defending their rights to free speech and protecting them from unnecessary censorship. Student Press Freedom Day was created to raise awareness for that mission.

This year Student Press Freedom Day was on February 26, and the theme was Journalism Against the Odds. The SPLC organized a writing effort among student journalists across the country to promote student press freedom by offering a free virtual Op-ed Boot Camp with speaker Steven A. Holmes, a veteran journalist and former Executive Director of Standards and Practices at CNN. I participated by signing up for the workshop with Holmes along with dozens of other students around the country, all hoping to learn from an experienced journalist.

This workshop gave student journalists, like myself, the opportunity to learn some of the best methods for developing and writing an opinion article. We were able to ask questions and interact with Holmes before we were given the opportunity to work with a mentor journalist to create an op-ed about the importance of student press freedom. I signed up and a few days later was in contact with my assigned mentor, Bonnie Feldkamp, an award winning freelance journalist and news writer. Once we got in contact with each other, we discussed the perspective I wanted to take in my article: working as a student journalist in a small town which does not have faith in news.

After we decided on my angle, she reached out to the nonprofit news publication, 100 Days In Appalachia, to pitch my article idea to their editor. 100 Days In Appalachia is a West Virginia University-affiliated publication, and they have an initiative called Appalachian Youth Creator Project. This initiative is devoted to giving student journalists in Appalachia a large platform to publish their opinion-based articles.

I was excited to write an article for this publication, especially about a topic as important as student press freedom. As students growing up in Appalachia can attest, its easy to feel like you don’t have a voice. Journalism is an outlet for me to express my thoughts and opinions about current events, especially when events have been so tumultuous lately. As a more liberal-leaning person politically and socially, it can be hard to find similar-minded people in a small and conservative town like Parkersburg. Arguments over politics in my family are not uncommon, especially around the topic of “fake news” and the recent election, making it hard to express my opinions in such tense environments. Writing allows me to thoughtfully evaluate current events, despite my environment, and find a community among fellow student journalists.

This opportunity with 100 Days In Appalachia allowed me to learn more about student press and how student journalists can make an impact on their community, while giving me a platform to express my opinion on censorship for student publications. It also gave me experience working with a non-student led publication for the first time, giving me insight on how coordinating and editing works with professional editors. My article went through two editors, bouncing back and forth a few times until it was ready to publish. Working and communicating with these editors taught me how to coordinate with other people’s vision for a piece and how to accept suggestions from a new perspective. This process was beneficial in learning how freelance journalists, like Feldkamp, pitch and publish articles with professional news publications, and how to build a journalism career through freelance writing. Getting my article published in 100 Days In Appalachia was rewarding as a student writer, and I am grateful I had this opportunity to express my opinion on the importance of student press freedom, which is what Student Press Freedom Day is about.