This past winter I had the privilege and pleasure of spending the better part of 2 weeks in the United State’s capital. The purpose of my visit was twofold–to visit my niece who was serving as an intern in the State Department and, secondly, to visit the Capitol building, the Library of Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, the National Archives, and as many monuments and museums as I could. In other words, I wanted to immerse myself in the historical records and governmental workings of the United States. I wanted to reflect on who we are and what it means to be an American. While visiting, I witnessed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arriving via chopper. I couldn't have asked for a better symbol of the United States. From its beginnings, there was rebellion, deliberation of founding documents, foreign conflicts, compromise, economic disasters, global warfare, and civil strife. In the process, our nation was forged through the tempering of democracy’s ideals by sharpening steel against steel until the metal’s edge eventually becomes pure and honest. As his country’s representative, President Zelenskyy visited President Biden and addressed both houses of Congress, demonstrating the good faith in the belief in our nation’s freedoms, which today continues to purify itself through fiery debate and protest.
I feel the weight of responsibility advisers feel when communicating to their students the importance of their yearbook work.
The United States put indestructible ideas to paper that framed our nation. This 4th of July week, I reflected on how I stood in the Rotunda of the Charters of Freedom within the National Archives and thought about the beauty and significance of these historic documents. I thought about my visit to Washington, D.C., and the symbolism of President Zelenskyy's visit, and I could feel the weight of responsibility advisers feel when communicating to their students the importance of their yearbook work. Embedded in the First Amendment of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights are two critical rights– freedom of speech and press:
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
When I taught Student Publications, which included Yearbook and an online newspaper, my staff and I took the time to unpack these two rights during the first week. We worked through various relevant scenarios to truly understand the meaning of these rights. I found the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) a very helpful resource in assembling background for freedom of speech and censorship information on what are known as “anti-Hazelwood” laws. Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 Supreme Court decision that determined that student speech in public schools could be limited by their schools or districts. Since then, there have been a few states, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Massachusetts, that have implemented “anti-Hazelwood” laws. Because of the sensitivity of these laws, it would be helpful to include your administrator in a class conversation at the beginning of the year, so everyone understands exactly the school policy. Here is a short NSPA blog describing “anti-Hazelwood” laws and the reality of censorship to share with students.
As an adviser of student publications, and as a facilitator of student voice, my duty included presenting a thorough case to inform and understand the concept of freedom of the press. When students use integrity in their reporting, it could lead to greater freedom from the administration, (at least in my experience). Within United Yearbook’s Curriculum and Resources No. 1, Yearbook Basics, the NSPA Model Code of Ethics is presented and is an excellent beginning. It is based in part on the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code. The NSPA website is curated to specific ethics and responsibilities that high school journalism students balance when providing their school communities with any press-worthy (print or online) documents. Decoding the Model Code of Ethics in a team building/collaborative activity into relevant terms will assist in internalizing ethical practices.
The Journalism Education Association's website, jea.org, offers meaningful student-centered terminology and features excellent resources for the classroom. It includes such topics that are necessary for student empowerment in their work:
Transparency in Reporting
Sensitivity with Controversy
Power of Multiple Viewpoints
Civic Engagement Considerations
This information can be dry, but it is critical the Yearbook Staff comprehends the importance of their work. A solid, sound, ethical yearbook can be developed when guided by the proactive intent to be inclusive, truthful, and as unbiased as possible. Create scenarios to implement this practice (lifted straight from Google searches) to provide the content selected from today’s headlines for relevant classroom discussion.
To be believed and respected in journalism means to be responsible for each of these freedoms.
The ability of the yearbook staff to provide an accurate record of a year in the life of their peers is directly related to how well they understand, and honor, the ideals and the context of the two freedoms they practice: speech and the press. To be believed and respected in journalism means to be responsible for each of these freedoms. Practicing that responsibility entails being fair to multiple viewpoints and being honest and accurate in telling the story. It also means being independent of influence and committed to minimizing any harm. Mindfulness and intention are important aspects of the work. Although it is a fine line in self-censoring, being aware of the potential effects of a story is essential when assessing repercussions. This is one reason many schools no longer have Senior Quotes or Superlatives. 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.
Yearbook staffers need to know what to expect and, therefore, be thoughtfully readied for the day when they are held to praise or criticism.
Finally, and most significantly, a yearbook staff must be fully prepared to be both individually and collectively accountable. Yearbooks are permanent records. As such, whatever is committed to those pages between those covers, 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 own students.
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 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.