Three high school students were selected from 127 entrants as winners in the annual First Amendment Essay Contest, sponsored by the University of Georgia’s Georgia Scholastic Press Association, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies.
“Georgia high school journalists clearly understand and appreciate the value of freedoms and protections provided by The First Amendment,” said Cecil Bentley, assistant director of the Cox Institute. “Several talented young writers shared thoughtful insights into how First Amendment freedoms impact their campus and community.”
Michael Cranford, a senior from Parkview High School in Lilburn, won first place in the contest. He will be awarded a $100 cash prize and $100 to his school newspaper, The Pantera.
“The students’ collective voices may push the boundaries of press and speech freedoms, but they also demonstrate how democracy requires both rights and responsibilities to enjoy its rewards,” Bentley said.
Finishing in second place was Amber Leone, a junior from North Forsyth High School in Cumming. Hamilton will receive $75 and an additional $75 for the school literary magazine, Threshold. Sophomore Jessica Norton from Decatur High School in Decatur won third place. She will receive $50 along with $50 for the school’s newspaper, Carpe Diem.
Cranford’s essay discussed the history of the First Amendment and applied it to the regular prior review and censorship of his publication.
“The fact that our school newspaper is not a public forum per se has huge ramifications on how we go about compiling the newspaper, what can be said, what cannot be said and our protection of freedom of the press under the First Amendment,” Cranford wrote. “Even once an article gets to the drawing board and is completed, the principal still has a very final and nonchalant way of keeping a story from print by strongly suggesting some materials not to be placed in the newspaper.”
Cranford explained articles discussing “real” solutions to move the drinking age to 18 were stopped before publication. Around the same time, similar topics popped up in another local high school newspaper.
“The main point of a high school newspaper is not to push the bounds of seniority review in scandalous reporting, however, its purpose is to teach the art of journalism to students, and for students to understand the good and controversial aspects of the trade,” he said. “As students find out, the First Amendment and its rights bestowed upon Americans are just as much an integral part of a high school newspaper’s staff with an audience of 2,000 as they are vital for a big city publication with readers in the millions.”
Leone’s essay discussed the First Amendment as a broader category of rights that should let students “take a stand for our art.”
She explained a situation in 2006 when the school yearbook included a mini insert of “Teen Issues” that covered teen pregnancy, alcohol use and drug use.
“Teens often have to face these issues, and the insert offered insightful information on dealing with those problems,” she wrote. “The school system should have recognized this as mature awareness; however, they simply regarded the whole situation as inappropriate.”
Leone said the literary magazine is subject to censorship now.
“These students are being shut out from their imaginative minds and freedom to speak out for what they believe in,” she wrote. “Why won’t we fight to defend our rights? Don’t we care anymore?”
Norton wrote about the First Amendment and its breadth of coverage, arguing it should apply to student publications as much as it does to professional ones.
“School censorship does nothing to protect students who are constantly exposed to ‘sensitive’ information through other media,” she wrote. “It is more prudent to let students read about these issues in articles written by their peers. In this way, student journalists learn to tastefully discuss controversial subjects in the media, and the student body is more likely to respond to the information presented.”
All three winning essays can be read in their entirety at http://www.grady.uga.edu/gspa/1stAmendmentEssay
The winners of the fourth annual contest will be recognized at the Georgia Scholastic Press Association (GSPA) Awards Ceremony held in Athens on May 1.
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