FIRE launches Can I Publish This? — a clickable guide to media and First Amendment law for student journalists

October 25, 2021

“Is this story going to get the paper sued?” — It’s a question that no student newspaper editor wants to ponder, but, when covering tough and important stories, it’s a question editors probably should ask.

And while student media editors could spend hours combing through media law textbooks to answer the question, we’d rather they focus their time on, y’know, journalism. So FIRE has done the work for them. The result is CanIPublishThis.com, an interactive guide to common media law and First Amendment concepts, designed for student journalists.

Can I Publish This? asks student reporters to answer a series of questions about content they plan to publish — Could the story damage someone’s reputation? Is the story based on private or leaked information? Are you using that photo you found online to, for example, make fun of it, or because it nicely illustrates the story? 

By asking these and other questions, Can I Publish This? helps student reporters identify potential legal risks in their content.

Can I Publish This? launches today with modules on defamation, privacy and leaked information, and intellectual property law (copyright and trademark). As part of FIRE’s strengthened commitment to serving the needs of college media, student journalists should also expect to see new modules in the future on subjects like prior review, prior restraint, and source issues.

Later this academic year, FIRE will announce even more resources and services for student journalists.

A lot of FIRE staffers — myself included — are former student journalists, and we all have stories about late production nights in the newsroom, when we stopped to wonder, “Is this libelous?” or “Is this a copyright violation?” Can I Publish This? was inspired by these nights: In working with current student journalists, we’ve recognized that sleepless nights thinking about legal risk continue to plague today’s student publication editors.

While Can I Publish This? is designed to help college newspaper leaders learn about and identify potential legal liabilities, the site isn’t designed to scare student reporters into avoiding tough or controversial stories. To the contrary, Can I Publish This? gives student publications the tools they need to cover difficult subjects without worry.

Can I Publish This? is only a taste of things to come: Later this academic year, FIRE will announce even more resources and services for student journalists, in addition to our already-established Student Press Censorship Hotline, advocacy work we do for student publications when they face censorship at the hands of administrators or student governments, and other resources we currently offer student journalists.

In the meantime, student journalists facing censorship or legal questions should reach out to FIRE by calling our hotline at 1-833-451-FIRE or by submitting a case.