by Adam Levine ‘20
Throughout my week at the Newseum for the 2019 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, I sat at many, many tables. Whether for eating meals or taking notes while listening to a keynote speaker, we always found time to share stories from our home states.
The conference brings together 51 high school journalists from around the country every year to show the opportunities a career in journalism offers and the importance of the First Amendment. Over the course of the week, we talked about articles we’ve written, the types of publications we have at our school, and even just the culture from our respective states.
From the very first day, I heard one commonality between many of the stories shared by my fellow Free Spirits: censorship. What surprised me most was that the censorship did not discriminate. I heard stories of censorship from a public Virginia high school to a private New Jersey high school, among many others. Censorship was a much bigger threat than I ever thought it could be.
As I listened to stories of my fellow Free Spirits being shut down for trying to write stories on school-related issues or controversial topics, I began to reflect on the stories I was putting out. Sure, I was proud of them, but they weren’t the kind of hard-hitting news they could be: the type of news that my fellow Free Spirits worked hard to put out, and being from a Maryland public school, I didn’t face the same kind of restrictions the other Free Spirits did.
In my school’s once-offered Journalism class, I learned that students of Maryland public high schools are protected from censorship and prior review by the New Voices Act. This law, according to the Maryland-DC Scholastic Press Association, “protects the free speech and free press rights of student journalists in Maryland public secondary schools.”
I had been taking these rights for granted, and it wasn’t until I was exposed to the stories of those who had these rights taken away that I realized what was so special about these rights. With free speech, journalists have the ability to enact change in their community by reporting hard news. While writing the features stories are fun, it’s news that gives the press its role as a watchdog.
Realizing the importance of news in journalism and the impact it can have sparked a new passion for journalism in me. It was not just one of my classes at my school. I began to see it more seriously as a career path. I wanted to make an impact on my community, and what better way to do it than through writing.
To my fellow Maryland public high school journalists, don’t take this wonderful opportunity for granted like I did. You have to ability to write stories that can make big changes within your school, so don’t waste it. It may sound cliché, but you have the ability to make the change you want, and thankfully, as a Maryland public high school student, there isn’t anything stopping you but yourself.