COLUMN: Scholastic journalism not immune from anti-media rhetoric

*Director’s Note: The following was originally published by TheStatehouseFile.com Aug. 13, 2018. It was produced in response to The Boston Globe’s call for newspapers and news outlets across the country to publish editorials or opinion pieces refuting “The dirty war on the free press” led by President Trump

IHSPA Executive Director Ryan Gunterman

By Ryan Gunterman
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – One’s first, professional press credential is something that is celebrated in the world of student journalism. For many, the feeling is an emotional combination of Christmas morning, a surprise birthday party and the season premiere of their favorite Netflix show.

As a journalism educator of 15 years, the thrill of seeing this joy was equally as fulfilling. Therefore, it was a moment of celebration when both the Clinton and Obama campaigns approved access for several of my students during the 2008 Indiana Primary. In 2016, the enthusiasm was replaced with fear when the Trump campaign granted similar privileges to one of my high school seniors.

This emotional 180 had nothing to do with politics. My students have covered candidates of both parties at the local, state and national levels. Not once did I hesitate in encouraging them to do so.

Until 2016, when the safety and wellbeing of the young adult for which I was responsible could not be guaranteed due to one, five-letter word on her lanyard.

“Press.”

Attacks on the media do not discriminate between those journalists who are working toward the honor roll or Pulitzer Prize. President Trump does not inform his crowds and Twitter legion that a high school diploma is required to be the “enemy of the people.” There’s not a minimum print circulation or Nielsen rating to be labeled “fake news.”

“The dirty war on the free press” targets all in the field. Including our children.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, addresses the crowd at a rally in Terre Haute, Indiana during the 2008 Indiana Democratic Primary campaign. Photo by Elizabeth Robins, Bloomington High School North, and redistributed with permission.

While the motivation behind this “war” is to discredit accurate information and credible journalists, its casualties are increasingly becoming the very institutions responsible for preventing the journalistic falsities President Trump claims to despise.

The Indiana High School Press Association has championed the core values of truth, courage, integrity and freedom since 1922, and the state’s scholastic journalism programs have a long history of adhering to those very principles. Hoosiers should be proud to know the top middle and high school media outlets can be found right here, and our academic standards for journalism, publications and mass media courses are a national model.

However, the anti-media message that had been reserved for CNN and The Washington Post is now being utilized to discredit, and even suppress, Indiana’s young reporters. Examples of school administrators and community leaders engaged in the restriction of classroom press freedom can be found from Evansville to Fort Wayne, New Albany to Gary, Richmond to Terre Haute and every region in between.

This opposition even made its way into the Statehouse during the recent legislative session. When the House defeated a bill to protect the First Amendment rights of student journalists for the second, consecutive year, one heard the phrase “fake news” echoing on the chamber floor.

While explaining why his fellow representatives should join him to deny freedom of the press within Indiana school hallways, Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, said the legislation was an effort “to make the school look the same way as these people that write about the fake news on a daily basis.”

Following his remarks, a bill that was approved 88-4 by the very same elected officials in 2017 failed when it received 42 more “no” votes in 2018.

Then-candidate Donald Trump greets his Indianapolis supporters at a rally during the 2016 Indiana Republican Primary campaign. Photo by Lillyanne Pham, Columbus North High School, and redistributed with permission.

However, students aren’t the only ones finding themselves caught up in a “war” not of their own making. This conflict has also enveloped those adults responsible for molding the objective, fair information distributors for which the #MAGA crowd says it clamors.

Indiana is one of the few states that requires educators leading journalism and student media courses to be certified in the area of study just as those who teach math and English. These teachers are trained experts and the foundation of the First Amendment.

All of that importance and credibility is shattered by an angry, baseless accusation mimicked from the commander in chief.

The lessons of responsible reporting and resolving a societal ill are rendered irrelevant. It is undone by the continuation of these fake news, “enemy of the people” talking points that advance an agenda so those in charge can “win” over those who should be holding them accountable.

As a result, we have situations where journalists are being attacked, verbally and physically, and large segments of the public are more likely to believe false information from someone in power rather than the truth via those who are not.

The most-skilled, beloved journalism teacher would find little success in countering these tactics when they originate from the community, students’ parents and even their own supervisors.

What little hope does the truth have against such opposition?

This isn’t 2008 anymore.

Ryan Gunterman is executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association and an editor with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students..

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