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The Relationship of Freedom of Speech and Press to the Yearbook

Small sparklers are held behind an American flag

The 4th of July holiday creates the perfect setting to reflect on the significance of the rich history of the United States of America. There is a certain weight of responsibility to communicate the importance of the freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press, to your yearbook students. The first week of school is the time to unpack these two rights which are embedded in the First Amendment to the Constitution's Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.1

Freedom of Speech 

The National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) is a beneficial resource in understanding the meaning of the right to Freedom of Speech and censorship information. "Anti-Hazelwood" laws, are one of the topics to unpack. They are based on the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier 1988 Supreme Court decision, which determined that schools or districts could limit student speech in public schools. A few states have implemented these laws: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Massachusetts. To explain the school policy, and to discuss the sensitivity of these laws, invite your administrator to come to your class session the first week. This short NSPA blog helps explain “anti-Hazelwood” laws and the reality of censorship to share with students.

Freedom of Press

A significant role you play as an Adviser is to present a thorough case on the freedom of the press and what that means to the yearbook staff. Once students apply integrity to their reporting, they will be trusted with more freedom from the administration. The NSPA Model Code of Ethics is based in part on the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code, and an excellent place to begin. The  NSPA website specifically focuses on high school journalism students' ethics and responsibilities when creating press-worthy documents for their school communities. Build your team through a collaborative activity to decode the Model Code of Ethics. Let them use these terms in internalizing ethical practices. Follow the Journalism Education Association's website,, for powerful resources to use in the classroom, including topics such as:

Transparency in Reporting

Sensitivity with Controversy

Power of Multiple Viewpoints

Civic Engagement Considerations

The Yearbook Staff’s Duty

The yearbook staff has to provide an accurate record of a year in the life of their peers, and this is directly linked to their understanding, honor, and respect to practice the freedom of speech and the press. To be believed and respected in journalism means to be responsible for each of these freedoms. They must practice being fair to multiple viewpoints, through honesty and accuracy in telling their story. It means to be independent of influence and to commit to minimizing harm. They have to apply mindfulness and intention to their work so they understand the impact of the effect of their story, and the repercussions of what is printed. The Student Press Law Center is also a resource that advocates for student voice in yearbooks and provides a Yearbook Toolkit that may prove useful.

Permanent Records

Finally, and most significantly, a yearbook staff must be fully prepared to be individually and collectively accountable. Yearbooks are permanent records. As such, whatever is committed to those pages, mistakes and all, is permanent, too. Yearbook staffers need to know what to expect and be thoughtfully readied for the day when they are held to praise or criticism.

United Yearbook joins our nation in celebrating our precious freedoms; we are proud to be a part of practicing the freedoms of speech and the press with yearbook advisers and their staff. Our highest value is the accountability that comes with the practice of free speech and press. There are consequences for everything we publish. Therefore, we are mindful of our freedoms and closely guard the words we use in print. With yearbooks, some students may use a senior quote or even the names in each spread to bully others. That is not freedom of speech but a form of bullying. Let’s guide the student yearbook staff in the correct process and help them grasp the consequences of their use of speech and print. As your partners in this goal, we hope these reflections on both freedoms will help support your endeavors with your students.

We encourage advisers to share this blog with your upcoming yearbook editorial leaders and staff so they can become familiar with free speech and press and get ahead of yearbook planning.

United Yearbook offers blogs on a wide range of topics. In addition, there are resources such as curriculum, and year-round workshops on this and other areas. Make sure to subscribe to our blog and our  newsletter, and visit our website at to learn more! United Yearbook is available to assist you throughout the school year including summer break.

Copyright © 2024. TSE Worldwide Press. All Rights Reserved.

Former yearbook advisor, Lucy McHugh

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Editor, Donna Ladner

Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.


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