Anna Robinson, a junior at Communications High School in Monmouth County, is this year’s first place winner in the annual WriteOff contest at Fall Press Day, held today at Rutgers University.
Robinson was one of 15 students who wrote news stories immediately after the keynote presentation, a panel discussion on student press rights and recent incidents of censorship at student newspapers in New Jersey.
Robinson takes home a citation and a $100 award provided by The Bergen Record, which sponsors the WriteOff.
Taking second place is Lilia Wood of Glen Rock High School in Glen Rock. Winning third place was Kaitlyn Boyle of Cherry Hill High School East in Cherry Hill.
Robinson’s winning story:
Warning: this article has not been tampered with, but countless other pieces by journalism students have faced censorship.
A crowd of 732 students and 80 advisers attended the Garden State Scholastic Press Association conference Monday, representing 50 schools in New Jersey. The keynote address was presented twice and covered the topic of press rights on a school level.
GSSPA founder John Tagiareni acted as the moderator of the event, accompanied by guest speakers Kylie Sposato, Adelina Colaku, Frank LoMonte and Phil Gianficaro.
Students in the audience tweeted their questions using the hashtag gsspa2014.
According to Tagliareni, it was the first time students had been invited to a panel. Now freshmen in college, Sposato and Colaku were seniors when their articles were prohibited from publication by their school adminstrations.
“It just seems like the schools pull the blinds on them,” said Gianficaro, an award-winning columnist for Calkins Media who write columns in support of Sposato and Colaku.
Sposato, now a student at Rowan University, attended Pemberton Township High School when she wrote a piece about smoking in the bathrooms at her school. Before the article could be published, she said, the school administration cut the column.
“It’s constant. Any time you go into the bathroom, there is smoke in there,” Sposato said. She fought the school on their ruling in a legal battle and eventually won the right to publish her piece.
Colaku submitted her article, on a school administrator’s tenure charges, for prior review to her principal and was denied the right to publish the piece.
“I had to be reflective,” Colaku said as she, too, started a legal battle against her school, Northern Highlands Regional High School. Her newspaper’s adviser would lose his position if she persued this case, she said.
After a three-month legal battle, Colaku was granted the right to publish her story and her adviser lost his position.
“You’re not going to let authority figures boss you around,” Colaku said with the support of her adviser.
Both Sposato and Colaku sought legal aid for their cases. Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, helped them and other students who face a breach of their First Amendment rights.
“The foundation of journalism is truth,” said LoMonte. “When muffled, scream louder.”
LoMonte said he pushes for students to fight against school officials who try to quiet voices because, he said, “We’ll only make progress if you share it.”
“The last thing they want is bad publicity,” said Tagliareni, who agreed with LoMonte on fighting censorship.
“We want you guys to be freedom fighters,” said LoMonte.
The invited speakers were all recognized for their achievements. LoMonte was given a Golden Quill Award, which commends leaders against censorship.
LoMonte spoke of a previous event where he asked 60 students to raise their hands if they had ever faced censorship and 50 raised their hands.
“I asked them how many did anything about it, and 50 hands went down,” he said.