At 8 a.m. Thursday morning, senators in Olympia will hear a piece of legislation that will clarify the rights of student journalists and their advisers, and longtime Mountlake Terrace High School journalism teacher Vince DeMiero will be there to show his support.
“I don’t think I’m overstating this,” said DeMiero, who serves as the adviser to the MTHS Hawkeye student newspaper. “The longer that I’m an educator and the more I interact with students, the more I think this sort of legislation is necessary to protect our democracy.”
DeMiero has been a teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School since 1988 and has spent many years overseeing the Hawkeye. Under his leadership, the student publication has won dozens of awards.
Just this past November, the Hawkeye won 14 awards at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association national convention last week in Orlando, Fla. A special edition issue focused on education placed fifth in the prestigious “Best of Show”. As MLTnews reported, several student works also earned “Superior” and “Excellent” rankings at the convention.
“Our role as journalism educators is to provide excellent information, a solid ethical and legal underpinning, skill development opportunities and an authentic environment in which students produce work,” DeMiero wrote in a letter supporting the legislation. “It certainly should not be our job to tell students what or how to think or what to publish.”
The WJEA has taken a strong stance in support of the bill. The organization says they support free and responsible journalism. Members are teaching or advising various forms of journalism, from newspapers to magazines to yearbooks.
According to the WJEA website, eight other states have passed similar legislation, and two other states are considering it now.
This isn’t the first time such a bill has been brought to Olympia. In 2007, a similar bill cleared the house but never made it out of the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education. In 2009, supporters tried a different route, introducing it to the Senate first, thinking it would quickly pass in the House if it made it out of the Senate – but it never did.
Then, on Jan. 12 this year, State Sen. Joe Fain, a Republican, introduced an update to the bill, which will be heard in the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education Thursday. The bill has bipartisan support from five Democrats and three Republicans, and the majority of sponsors are on the committee.
According to DeMiero, the bill seeks to clarify a student reporter’s First Amendment rights as journalists.
Student editorial staff would have full control of the content published, determining what they should cover and how to cover it. Faculty advisers would not be held accountable for what the students publish.
The bill does not protect against libel, invasions of privacy or breaking other laws.
The idea is that the school administration cannot censor what the students publish. In exchange, the school will not be responsible for content in the student publication.
“If we want our young men and women to become active, vibrant members of the community, we need to make sure they’re practicing where they are being supervised and educated,” DeMiero said.
–By Natalie Covate