Free speech org launches tool to help student journalists

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has created an online tool to help reporters stay within the law will exercising the right to a free press.

The guide asks questions about what the information contains and how it was obtained.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has debuted a new online tool to guide student journalists on what they can and cannot legally publish. Titled “Can I Publish This?,” the interactive site steers students toward information about what is and is not legal to print or post, in order to help them confidently contribute.

The resource, titled “Can I Publish This?” has three categories where student journalists are likely to encounter legal questions: “Libel,” “privacy & leaked information,” and “copyright & trademark.”  

Users are prompted to answer simple questions about their content, and the site steers them to either a page with an explanation of if, and why, publishing such content carries a legal risk. The prompts contain simple explanations of legal concepts, like how a copyright differs from a trademark. FIRE’s press release states it plans to add more topics to the site in the future.  

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FIRE Student Press Counsel Lindsie Rank told Campus Reform that the resource is “exactly the type of tool [she] would have loved when [she] was a student journalist.” Rank continued, “I was one of those editors who was always worried something was going to get my college paper in legal trouble, and having a clickable guide to help me think through issues like libel and privacy law would have been so helpful.” She says many of her colleagues experienced the same issue, and that the new site will give current and future students a simple way to explore the parameters of media law.

Though the site is aimed at college students journalists, others are also finding it relevant to their work. Rank said, “We’ve already heard from a few journalism and law professors who plan to use it in their classes, and we also foresee it being a great tool for bloggers or even students who just want to post on social media.”

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Though the site’s content is not legal advice, it is guidance that students can use to make decisions about what they will and will not publish. The tool is a response to the gap between college students’ very limited knowledge of media law and what these budding journalists need to know to stay within the law. 

“Our hope is that Can I Publish This? will provide current and future student journalists with the tools they need to think through common media law and First Amendment questions, identify when it’s time to call a lawyer…and ultimately feel more confident when covering tricky topics,” Rank said.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito