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Student journalists get freedom to publish

UPDATED: Wed., March 21, 2018, 9:52 p.m.

A long line of bills are placed on a table in the Governor’s conference room at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., Wednesday, March 21, 2018, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center right, begins a signing ceremony. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
A long line of bills are placed on a table in the Governor’s conference room at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., Wednesday, March 21, 2018, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center right, begins a signing ceremony. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Student journalists at public schools and colleges will be free to publish what they want, without the fear of administrative backlash, under a new law signed Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The law, which will be in effect for the 2018-19 school year, says high school and college student journalists are responsible for choosing their content, and are not subject to prior review – even if their content was produced with university funding or in a class.

Student media advisers won’t be punished for failure to suppress content.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said it’s important that young journalists can learn the profession without censorship.

“Only in those areas where there is really an outspoken culture (of freedom of expression) do I think students feel more free to write and report and investigate,” he said.

Mariah Valles, a journalism student at Central Washington University and former editor at the Auburn High School newspaper, said prior review undermines both the news product students create and their learning opportunities.

Student journalists are still journalists, she said, and deserve to have their rights protected.

“The First Amendment has never been more important than now,” she said. “Student journalists today are tomorrow’s professional journalists.”

The law won’t apply to private schools like Gonzaga University, but Katie Kales, managing editor of The Gonzaga Bulletin, said while her paper can be subject to prior review, the administration has never used it while she’s been there. That freedom to practice without outside interference allows her and her peers to grow as journalists, she said.

“(Prior review ) restricts you from being able to do what you need to do, and use the skills that you’re learning in class,” Kales, a junior, said.

Thomas Kaup, a newspaper and yearbook adviser for Auburn High School, said students need to be given the freedom to make their own decisions in order to learn.

Student journalists are able to make good decisions when they get the right training, he said. They just need the freedom to do it.

“If someone’s always looking over their shoulder and telling them what’s right or wrong, they don’t get to learn themselves,” he said.

In a previous job, he said his students were subject to prior review and felt less responsible for the content they produced.

“The students were aware that their decisions didn’t matter as much,” he said.