Generation Next: Puyallup senior helps student journalists get press freedom

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- Students across Western Washington are making an impact on our community before they earn their high school diploma.

One of them is Haley Keizur, the Editor-in-Chief of The Viking Vanguard at Puyallup High School. She went to Olympia on a quest to help get fellow student journalists the same rights as professionals.

She wanted to become a journalist when she was 12 years old -- and got her first real chance in her sophomore journalism class.

Haley and her team decided to tackle the big issue of homelessness.

“As new journalists, it was our first time working for a paper, we were kind of nervous about how were going to cover it, and what got covered and who we were interviewing, so I remember being nervous about that.” Keizur said.

Nervous in part because they had to get approval from the school before publishing the story.

“And, I think that was the moment when I realized censorship is a real thing in student newspapers all across the country," Keizur said.

That realization sparked Haley to fight. She testified in Olympia in February,

“In order, for young, aspiring journalists, like myself to gain the skills for their future, they must be held to the same standards and guidelines as professionals. By passing this bill, we would be free from our censorship fears and be able to spend more time educating ourselves and our student body while reporting honestly and ethically.”

The bill Haley testified for puts student editors in charge of deciding what goes into their papers, with the caveat that stories can’t get the school sued or disrupt classes or school activities.

Sen. Joe Fain sponsored the bill.

“You want to train journalists to be journalists. And, it’s not journalism if you’ve got somebody over your shoulder who says you can ‘this,’ but you ‘can’t say that,’” Fain said.

Haley found an ally in the Republican Senator from South King County.

“Haley testified in multiple committees, she came down and rallied students to write letters and to send in emails. And, that’s what I was telling these kids when I’d meet with them before each legislative session, get your friends, get your fellow students engaged. I know that my colleagues will listen to what they have to say,” Fain recalled.

It worked. Washington is now the 14th state to extend press freedoms to public school students.

Haley’s journalism teacher, Sandra Coyer, says students have voices and they want to be heard.

“They feel a lot of times that they’re not being heard or they’re not worthy of being heard. I feel like this generation is so, not only deserving, of having their voices heard, but that there is so much power in those young voices,” Coyer said.

Coyer says she instantly realized her Editor-in-Chief would be one of those voices making a difference.

Now she says Haley is leaving a legacy at Puyallup High School as she helped create change for all student journalists in our state.

“The way that Haley is able to interact and inspire those around them is something that I’m going to be taking and keeping with me as she leaves my program and my classroom,” Coyer said.

Haley was a runner-up for National High School Journalist of the Year by the Journalism Education Association after she was named the State High School Journalist of the Year.

She plans to study journalism next year at the University of San Francisco.

As for the new law, it takes effect next month.