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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

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Blog: Notes From the Field, part two

For the second installment of Notes From the Field, we’ll be taking a look at the context that high school journalism exists within today: a bit of history, a bit of law and a bit of infrastructure. As a reminder, this blog is guided by one Central question: What is the best way to increase the presence of high quality journalism in public schools? Hopefully, understanding the current state of high school journalism will better help me figure out exactly how to help.


The history

Pinning down the genesis of high school journalism in America is difficult; it makes sense that a lot of people want to be known as the first, and thus there are a LOT of publications out there claiming to be the oldest. For my purposes, it isn’t very important to know who was the first, just the rough time period in which the first papers began. I’ll take The Willistonian’s word that they are the oldest high school paper, with their first dateline coming in 1881. Journalism education at the collegiate level got its start in 1908, when Mizzou’s journalism school was founded. In the years that followed, journalism education trickled down to the high school level. That era was when the two major high school journalism organizations were founded as well: the Journalism Education Association (JEA) was founded in 1924, focusing on helping journalism teachers and students alike. The National Student Press Association (NSPA) was founded in 1921, with a goal of connecting and promoting scholastic publications (Newspapers, Yearbooks, Literary Magazines, etc.). High school journalism continued to grow over the next 100-odd years, evolving to mirror trends in professional journalism like the move to the internet and social media.


The law

There are two major legal precedents for high school journalism: Tinker vs. Des Moines (1969) and Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier (1988). In Tinker, the Supreme Court held that in order for a school to censor student speech, the speech must “materially and substantially interfere” with the school day. That precedent existed for about two decades before Hazelwood wiped it away, holding that “schools retained the right to refuse to sponsor speech that was ‘inconsistent with ‘the shared values of a civilized social order.’” In other words, school officials could censor disruptive or “offensive” student media.

Hazelwood, in particular, gets at another important piece of journalistic law: prior review and prior restraint. Prior review, put simply, is a higher power like a school administrator looking at a newspaper or article before it is published. Prior restraint is that administrator stopping an article from publication as a result of that review. These two practices are allowed under Hazelwood.

Since Hazelwood, several states have passed “New Voices” laws, which restore the rights given to student journalists by Tinker, and make prior restraint illegal. My home state of Illinois is one of these 17 states, and similar legislation has been introduced in seven more states for the 2024 legislative cycle.

One cannot talk about student journalism law without mentioning the third major high school journalism organization (in my book, at least): The Student Press Law Center (SPLC). Founded in 1974, this non-profit provides legal support and consultation to high school newspapers across the country, and is instrumental in driving New Voices legislation. We at the Central Times have relied on the SPLC’s legal consultation plenty, especially in our own censorship battle in 2019.


The Infrastructure

The infrastructure surrounding high school journalism comes in plenty of forms, and the easiest way to understand these overlapping and interlocking supports and structures is by example. In our case, we’ll be taking a look at CT’s involvement at all levels of these systems.

At the local level, the main group we are a part of is the Northern Illinois Student Press Association, or NISPA. This group, and others like it, recognizes the journalistic accomplishments of its members, holds an annual convention for student journalists to learn and connects advisors and staffs alike. 

At the state level, the Illinois Journalism Education Association (IJEA) provides much of the same services, except on a larger scale. CT’s advisor, Keith Carlson, is the president of this organization.

The NSPA and JEA are the national players: they host two annual conventions for student journalists, provide opportunities for support and connection, provide resources for teachers and work to better the state of student journalism consistently. The SPLC also works at the national level, providing more targeted legal support. There are also plenty of other press groups out there: we at CT are members of the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA), who provide similar services to the NSPA or JEA.

Several organizations also provide more specific tools for journalists, like SNO Sites and their website builder which is used by CT and most other high school publications. On the yearbook side of things, there are also several companies that print and support the creation of yearbooks. Central’s Flight Yearbook works with Jostens, for example.

Intersecting all of these levels are various avenues for competition and recognition of achievement in journalism. NISPA, IJEA and NSPA all hold yearly newspaper competitions, selecting the best work from their member schools across dozens of categories at both the individual and publication levels. JEA also holds yearly writing competitions, where students write a timed story based on some prompt (press conference, sports game, etc.) , rather than submitting past work. The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) holds similar competitions at the state level.

As I’m sure you can tell, the world of high school journalism isn’t the easiest to navigate: I am technically a member of four press organizations, and use the support of several others regularly. From the press associations connecting students and advisors to the competition facilitators and specific support providers, there are a lot of companies and organizations involved in the life of a high school journalist.


A look ahead

Hopefully you understand the current state of high school journalism a little better after all of that. Next time on Notes From the Field, I’ll be looking a little deeper into the areas those supports fail to cover, and I’ll begin to come up with ideas for how to address them. Expect that installment roughly two weeks from now, give or take a couple of days depending on how swiftly I am able to complete the necessary reporting.

To make sure you don’t miss the next blog, follow me on X @jpfeifferCT

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About the Contributor
Jake Pfeiffer
Jake Pfeiffer, Editor-in-Chief
Jake Pfeiffer is a senior, entering his third year on the Central Times staff, this time as Editor-in-Chief. Jake joined CT as a sophomore because he wanted to write news, but since then he has grown to love just about every element of journalism. While it is rare to see Jake anywhere other than the CT office, occasionally you can find him captaining Central’s debate team, watching baseball, listening to a seemingly endless amount of podcasts or drowning in college applications.
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