Our View: Indiana lawmakers are failing student journalists

The Ball State Daily News Editorial Board weighs in on failed New Voices legislation.

Woodward and Bernstein, Murrow, Cronkite, the IndyStar investigative team — names that changed not only the world of journalism, but the face of the nation. Times are changing, and the future of watchdog journalism is at stake.  

A bill that would have extended freedom of the press rights to student journalists in seventh- through twelfth-grade died in the Indiana House Monday. 

House Bill 1016, or New Voices, would ensure public schools and school corporations would not have the ability to censor student media unless there was libelous language or illegal activity. Additionally, the bill would ensure student media advisers, principals and superintendents could not be punished for refusing to infringe on student press rights.

By shooting this bill down, Indiana legislators sent a message to young journalists that the First Amendment does not apply to them.

In order to stand for what we believe in as an independent news organization, we must stand against this decision.

When James Madison penned the First Amendment more than 200 years ago, he envisioned a country that gave the freedom of speech and the press to all Americans regardless of age. 

By denying these young journalists this freedom, the State of Indiana is directly infringing on the premise of what this country has stood for. 

According to the Indiana General Assembly, authority figures are allowed to put themselves above basic human rights. 

Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, said these students "lack the basic brain development that they need" to receive full constitutional rights. 

What legislators fail to realize is that there are thousands of student journalists across the country who have already proven that they are capable of reporting on important topics truthfully and professionally. 

In April 2017, students at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kansas, published an article that questioned the credentials of a recently hired principal, and soon after she resigned. 

In Utah, two high school journalists’ persistent reporting — despite their school removing a story from the school paper’s website — uncovered that a teacher had been fired for inappropriate conduct in January.

Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court told students in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that while they could learn about the Bill of Rights, they could not experience it for themselves. Without New Voices legislation, that oppressive decision still applies in Indiana.

In dismissing this bill, legislators are directly impeding young Hoosiers’ ability to learn. If those in charge continue censoring new journalists, students will fail to learn the values that are intrinsic to the core of journalism. 

The best journalists are the ones who question the world around them continuously. By rejecting this bill, our elected officials aren’t giving students the chance to understand what it means to question authority. If we, as a country, are instilling this thought into young journalists, who will be left to find the truth and tell it when it matters most?

This doesn’t have to be the end. This was the second time this bill has been brought to the house floor. Bring this bill to the floor a third time and do what we all know is right. Follow in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers and stand for what our First Amendment truly means. 

Give young journalists a chance because one day, you just might need them. We all will. 


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