Journalism students attend fall conference in Topeka

The 25th anniversary of the Kansas Student Publications Act inspires two-day event

Nora Lucas, JagWire editor-in-chief

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kansas Student Publications Act, 29 journalism students attended a fall conference on Monday, Sept. 25 and Tuesday, Sept. 26 in Topeka. The conference spanned over two days, unlike past years, and was hosted by the Kansas Scholastic Press Association (KSPA).

Students heard keynote speeches about the creation of the Kansas Student Publications Act from the people who lived through it, as well as attended information sessions on design, writing, photography and multimedia.

Keynote speakers of the event included professor Ron Johnson of Indiana University, photographer Jim Richardson from National Geographic, former state Sen. Lana Oleen, as well as former executive director of the Journalism Education Association Linda Putney. Professor John Hudnall from the University of Kansas also spoke, in addition to advisors Sharon Martin of Wichita East and Susan Massey of SMNW, BVSW principal Scott Roberts, Pittsburg High School students and professor Frank LoMonte of the University of Florida.

With the focus being on the Kansas Student Publications Act, speakers who were involved in its inception recalled the history of the law and why it was, and still is, important. After the verdict of the 1988 Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court case allowed school administration to prior review student publications, Kansans worked together to draft a bill that would give full freedom of the press to student journalists. It was then passed and signed into law in 1992.

Martin said that teaching journalism under the jurisdiction of Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier, before the law was passed, was “a time of uncertainty.”

“Your students may work as hard as they could on a story, but if the principal came in and said, ‘eh, I don’t like that,’ it was done. And it was over,” Martin said.

Hudnall was the executive director of KSPA at the time, and as he spoke, he said that although advisors and legislators played an instrumental role the passing of the bill, it was the maturity of student voice that made it truly successful.

“Time after time I heard from legislators, I heard from faculty members, I heard from across the state, the same words over and over again: ‘your students sold us,’” Hudnall said. “So, although it wasn’t this group of students, it was still the students that made this happen.”

Mary Beth Tinker of the landmark Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court case was invited up onstage by LoMonte and encouraged students to exercise their right of free speech.

“In order to make progress, to move ahead, we have to be like a turtle,” Tinker said. “Sometimes we have to stick our neck out.”

In a final note, Tinker faced students from all over Kansas and encouraged them to pursue journalism with courage.

“What about these mighty times?” Tinker said. “What a mighty time it is for the free press. We have so many issues that we need young people to weigh in on, to think about, to help to solve. Without your voices, we’re all cheated.”


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