Asserting the rights of the fourth estate

Editor’s note: Student Press Freedom Day was Feb. 22, and The Jambar celebrated with an event hosted by the Youngstown Press Club on Feb. 23. In honor of Student Press Freedom Day, The Jambar is publishing an excerpt from a speech given by Editor-in-Chief Molly Burke at the event.

The Student Press Law Center began Student Press Freedom Day six years ago with the purpose of celebrating student journalists and asserting our need for independent press on school campuses. 

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a free press. Nevertheless, this right has been challenged and often denied throughout American history, especially for student journalists. 

According to the SPLC, over 60 state and federal court cases have ruled it is unconstitutional to censor student press on college campuses. 

At Youngstown State University, we enjoy this ability to report openly and honestly. However, we are lucky compared to many school campuses, as student media in public universities are common victims of censorship. 

A 2021 study by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression surveyed editors from newspapers at public universities and found that 63.8% percent of editors experienced at least one instance of censorship in the previous year. 

Censorship often involved administrative requests to not publish certain content, with some students and advisors experiencing threats of job loss. Editors said the most censored topics involved administrative decisions, college personnel issues, college finances and crime, especially sexual assault.

Student press freedoms are even more limited for high school students. In the 1988 case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that high school administrations can censor student publications as long as they propose a “legitimate pedagogical concern.”

The SPLC explains that this broad definition has led to some muddied waters for high school journalists, and some administrations have taken advantage of its vagueness to censor students when their words don’t fit the administrations’ agendas.

Rulings like Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier led the SPLC to advocate for students with its New Voices campaign, a student-led bipartisan effort to solidify the rights of student journalists. 

In 1977, California became the first state to adopt New Voices Laws, which guarantee public school students freedoms of speech and press. As of 2024, 17 states have adopted New Voices Laws, but Ohio is unfortunately not one of those states. 

While we’ve been fortunate to have an uncensored press at YSU, it’s important to continue bringing awareness to these issues. We must continue asserting our freedom and advocating for our importance. 

Since the fall 2023, YSU’s campus has seen political unrest. With administrative changes and program cuts, we’ve seen protests, petitions, rallies and walkouts. 

Through every policy, every outcry and every new change, The Jambar has been on the ground, reporting and digging deeper. 

Thanks to the freedoms we are guaranteed in our Constitution, we have been at the forefront of keeping this community informed. 

Not only do we deserve to carry out our passions unbothered and respected, but the public has a right to a free press.

YSU needs a free press — a messenger, a watchdog, a lifeline.