Student journalist talks freedom, responsibility ahead of bill review

By Erica Irish and Eddie Drews
TheStatehouseFile.com

 INDIANAPOLIS — Drew Tapp, editor-in-chief of Southport High School’s The Journal, is no stranger to journalism education and its ongoing struggle in Indiana politics.

As the Southport senior manages 28 student journalists, Tapp works under the oversight of an administration that could review or censor any of his or his peers’ assignments at will.

Southport’s administration doesn’t interfere with the student publications. Tapp says he believe school administrators everywhere should grant students the freedoms of the professional press so that they gain the most from their experiences.

Drew Tapp, executive editor of Southport High School’s student newspaper, The Journal, discusses House Bill 1016. Tapp said student journalists need support to prepare themselves for a professional career. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com.

“We’ll be the ones working for the New York Times, The Washington Post, holding government officials accountable,” Tapp said. “If we learn how to do that in a censored environment, we’re not going to be prepared to do it in a censor-free environment.”

As students like Tapp voice concerns about censorship, lawmakers are working behind the scenes this session to extend full protection to their daily work.

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, resurrected his student journalism bill this session after it died in the Senate in 2017.

Its unexpected death came after the office of Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of Public Education, opposed the bill at the last minute.

House Bill 1016 would no longer permit school administrations to censor student media. Instead, it establishes several new requirements for student media and administrators.

School administrations, for example, would be required to set their expectations for student media. Likewise, advisers to the school’s student media organizations would be tasked with outlining their staff’s policies and holding their students accountable for mistakes.

Ryan Gunterman, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, hopes these mutual requirements will please those who oppose the bill.

“There are parts of the legislation that makes it perfectly clear that a school is immune from any civil liability from student speech and giving their students their first amendment rights,” Gunterman said.

While Clere is optimistic that the newest version of the bill will survive its hearing in the House Education Committee Thursday, he must navigate ongoing opposition in the Senate and from school administrators.

“I’m disappointed that the administrators haven’t been more receptive to this legislation,” Clere said. “I guess I understand why they don’t want to give up that control, but that’s not good for students.”

Mike Klopfenstein, adviser for Southport High School’s The Journal, said students’ opportunities are limited without trust from administrators.

“Mostly I think administrators are scared of the negative possibilities,” he said. “They don’t have their sights set on all the amazing opportunities that could come when you give kids this kind of responsibility and this kind of freedom.”

For Clere, the main intent is to provide entire communities with an engaged press that, from his perspective, can only enhance public dialogue on important issues.

“It’s much more than just journalism education,” Clere said. “It’s about all of the other benefits that a robust student press brings to a school community in the same way that a robust professional press brings to the community at large.”

Diana Hadley, former executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, is optimistic about this attempt to pass the bill.

“We have a strong bill similar to those that have passed in other states, and Indiana has great journalism programs we can highlight,” Hadley said.

Thirteen states currently have laws extending rights to student journalists, according to information reported by New Voices, a national advocacy group for journalistic freedom.

Hadley isn’t expecting the bill’s opponents to change their minds, but she said the relationships they built with those who opposed the bill last year should be helpful this year.

Tapp is hopeful for the bill this year, and is interested to see how it will turn out in a short legislative session.

“We’re a little bit more under the gun,” Tapp said. “We don’t have as much time as we did last year.”

Though time is short, Tapp continues to hold the bill as a key support symbol for students who want a career in journalism.

“It’s all really about educating the next generation of professional journalists,” Tapp said.

HB 1016 is listed for review by the House Education Committee Thursday.

Editor’s note: Ryan Gunterman of the Indiana High School Press Association is an employee of Franklin College.

Erica Irish and Eddie Drews are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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