A new legislative bill passed its first round of approval to increase protections of high school and college-level journalists writing for their school publications.
The Nebraska Legislature advanced LB 206 on Jan. 21, which states, “No publication or other expression of matter by a student journalist in the exercise of rights...shall be deemed to be an expression of a public high school's policy.”
In addition, the bill states, “No public high school, member of a school board, or employee of such school or board shall be held responsible in any civil or criminal action for any publication or other expression of matter by a student journalist in the exercise of rights.”
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Adam Morfeld, aims to prohibit interference from administrators.
“College should be an opportunity for young people to learn the skills of journalism and ethics of journalism,” Morfeld said. “If we’re censoring students unnecessarily, that’s not really providing an environment to teach those skills.”
He added that this censorship is happening “rampantly” across the state, referencing three to four hours of testimonies from students in a senate committee hearing, citing this specific administrative censorship.
“As a former student journalist, it was the opportunity I had to learn strong communication and ethical skills,” Morfeld said. “[Student journalism] is the proving ground for the next generation of journalists, which is the fourth estate of our government.”
Some senators objected to the bill, including state Sen. Mike Moser.
“I think that the bill would give leverage to the student or to the faculty adviser over the administration, and I don’t think that’s a power that public media has in the real world,” Moser said.
He pointed out that an approval process is necessary at professional media outlets, from the editor to the publisher and, ultimately, the owner of the outlet.
“Being able to work in that environment is part of journalism,” Moser said. “I know it would be frustrating if you had a blockbuster story and you [couldn’t] get it printed, but you need to work within the system to make that all work out.”
Molly Bohannon, who graduated from Creighton in 2019, is currently pursuing an M.A. in investigative reporting at Arizona State University. She previously worked at the Arizona Republic as a social reporter and was once the editor in chief of The Creightonian.
“This bill is important because student journalists are real journalists, and they deserve to have their speech and rights protected as such,” Bohannon said. “An important aspect of the bill is the protection of faculty from disciplinary action, because if they can’t advocate for students to learn at the time when they should be, who can?”
Bohannon also said she believes student journalism is important because “it is the place where the next generation of truth-tellers learns how to do things right.”
“It’s the right place for the new journalists to learn how the field operates, learn how to interview and write and, most importantly, learn how to make mistakes,” she said.