Student journalists show responsibility

By Carol Singletary: Guest columnist

Our founding fathers knew that in order to have an effective democracy, someone must monitor the powerful and keep them honest. Thus, they placed freedom of the press in the First Amendment, along with the other fundamental freedoms (speech, religion, assembly and petition).

Journalists became The Fourth Estate, the final check and balance in a system designed around multiple checks and balances.

In order for this system to work effectively, we must train individuals to both produce responsible journalism and expect responsible journalism.

Scholastic journalism programs are just as valuable to our country as our military; without a free and responsible press, there is nothing for our military to fight for except the memory of a free country.

Teaching journalism is my chance to encourage students to think about ideas, about facts, about truth, and to make a difference with their words. Very few of these students will go on to journalistic professions, but they will continue as citizens who know how to demand an honest press working to keep our leaders honest.

Many adults, including some educators, do not think teenagers are capable of independent thought, or of ethical, responsible decisions if left to themselves. This could not be further from the truth. Over and over again my journalism students have proven they can think and make wise choices. Sometimes they make poor decisions and then learn and grow because of them.

I had a newspaper editor a few years ago who was concerned the district’s policy of controlling the content of the school paper was a form of censorship. Without consulting me, he started a protest against it. Many adults assumed I had something to do with it, assuming a student would never have that much initiative. They were wrong.

Because of his protest, our district now has a formal School Board policy putting control of the paper’s content where it belongs — in the hands of the students.

The students take this right very seriously. Having a chance to prove they are responsible is making them responsible.

My current editor wants to extend this right to other students in New Mexico. She is planning to approach other schools and lawmakers to help our state join the other states that have laws protecting the First Amendment rights of high school students.

Last week was National Scholastic Journalism Week, our annual chance to celebrate and support our student journalists. These students are helping to protect America. If we continue to let them practice wise decision making, we can feel confident that our future is in safe hands.

Carol Singletary teaches journalism at Clovis High School. She can be contacted at: csingletary@plateautel.net