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Student journalists face tough questions, decisions amid new legislation in Wisconsin State Assembly

Bipartisan bill could offer added protections to student-run media
Cardinal TV at Fond du Lac High School.jpeg
Posted at 10:03 AM, Jan 24, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-24 11:03:37-05

FOND DU LAC — Tucked within the halls of Fond du Lac High School sits the home of Cardinal TV, a student-run broadcast.

From running camera to writing scripts and everything in between, these high schoolers are quickly learning all aspects of how to work in a real newsroom.

“We have student editors, student producers, directors. Students are pitching ideas, they're coming up with their own ideas,” said Matthew Smith, Journalism and English teacher, Fond du Lac High School.

Leading the group is Matthew Smith, a journalism and English teacher who is one of the lead voices behind Wisconsin State Assembly Bill 551, which creates guidelines that mirror the same ones that are used in traditional media outlets.

“If it's student media, the student editors or producers in charge will decide what they're covering, and exactly how they're covering it,” said Smith.

Smith is also president of the Wisconsin Journalism Education Association.

He hopes their work will help support student journalists.

“There are a lot of schools, a lot of schools, where the students do not feel supported to cover with what they want, whether it’s told to them explicitly, or it's just hinted very strongly that there are topics that are off the table,” said Smith.

Seniors like Anna Frankow say this makes them nervous for the future of journalism and it’s making them reconsider whether they want to pursue this as a career once they graduate.

“Having someone tell me that I can't cover a topic that's important to me makes me feel like I'm unimportant. It makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter,” said Frankow.

Anna says she’s learned about the First Amendment and assumed it protected everyone, including students.

“We have the freedom of speech. We're allowed to tell what we want. We're allowed to be who we want. But, when it comes to what we value, and the things that we want to do, we're not allowed to,” said Frankow.

That new pressure also weighs on Anna in her role as the executive producer of Cardinal TV.

For the last two years, she's worked her way up to the top job and now, she's responsible for a show that airs in all classrooms.

“We are making stuff to put out what we have to say and making stuff to make sure that other people's voices are heard that don't have the opportunity to say stuff otherwise,” said Frankow.

Right now, the bill is still in a Senate committee and could be picked back up this session.

Smith says he's hopeful the legislation will pass and encourages students to speak up for their rights as loud and as often as they can.

“If you're willing to like fight to make the future better, people will stand up with you. It's worth fighting for,” said Smith.