This afternoon, I had the chance to hang out with DC/Virginia/Maryland high school student journalists at an event hosted by the local Journalism Educators Association branch. Towards the end, we broke into smaller groups to talk about the stories they’re trying to cover and the roadblocks they encounter.
I asked my group first to talk about freedom of speech at their schools — in the journalism programs, in online speech, in dress codes, in drama classes, etc. Their answers ran the gamut. One student newspaper operated without prior review and said they’d never faced pressure from administrators to not run something in the paper. Another student said she felt her school’s journalism program had more free speech than other aspects of the school A third student said her principal regularly cuts things from the newspaper that he feels shouldn’t be written about. All of the students in my group knew of someone who had been suspended for something they said online.
My favorite part of our discussion though, was talking about public records. I asked my group if anyone had filed a public records request, and none had (although several had used public records that were acquired by others). They literally gasped when I told them they had a right to request their principal’s emails. The look of empowerment on these students’ faces when I told them they could request their principal’s emails? Just incredible.