Student Press Freedom Day — also known as SPFD — is on Feb. 26 and celebrates the role student journalists fill while pointing out the challenges they face.
Hadar Harris, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the SPLC created SPFD in 2019 to elevate and amplify awareness of the challenges faced by student journalists and the great contributions they make.
Harris said student journalists do not get the credit or recognition they deserve. This is why SPFD was created, to bring light to the challenges and hardships that student journalists go through.
“Despite the important work they do, student journalists are often subject to censorship or prior review by school administrators who want to restrict publications of stories which would put the school in a bad light or cause controversy,” Harris said.
This year, the theme for SPFD is “Journalism Against the Odds” in acknowledgment of the news coverage students produced despite being faced with challenges.
“In addition to outright censorship, student journalists worked against odds that included prior review, lack of access to critical data, suppression of or discipline for unflattering or controversial photos or other news coverage, assault and harassment during public gatherings, budget cuts, and an abrupt shift to an all-virtual newsroom and all-online business model,” Harris said.
In 2020, students covered stories about outbreaks and improper quarantine measures on campuses. Beth Francesco, senior director of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said SPFD is there to support students through those tricky spots.
“Amid the ongoing pandemic, students have limited access to information and to places where important decisions are made about campus closures, COVID rates, and preventative measures and housing.” Francesco said.
The struggles that student journalists face as time goes on can affect the universities they attend. The SPFD website states that student press has been attacked and abused, as well as unconstitutionally thwarted and disciplined for raising awareness, but students have fought back.
“A community without an independent news source is a news desert, which only benefits those in power, not masses,” said Kelly Glasscock, executive director of the Journalism Education Association.
Francesco said student journalists are some of the most hardworking individuals in their field — they are curious, innovative and untethered to conventional ways of gathering and reporting information.
“Students in each high school and university should have a voice,” Glasscock said. “Student media provides that voice and operates as a checks and balance system.”
Partners of the SPFD said as student journalists work against all odds to create and share their stories, countless factors continue to hold them back from getting all the information they can.
They aren’t the only ones to hold this opinion either; students want their voices to be heard.
Kristi Shields, the Dixie Sun News editor-in-chief and a junior communication studies major from Salt Lake City, said, “Personally, as a student journalist, I feel under-appreciated and less important than journalists who report on the local news, so this day is important to me because it reminds me that our hard work is being recognized; it’s not all for nothing and we are important to the campus population.”
Shields also said SPFD is a day to acknowledge what student journalists do and that “we are as important as journalists who work for city newspapers.”