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CWU student journalists fight for their First Amendment rights

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Student journalists from Central Washington University rallied on campus Thursday to fight for their First Amendment rights. For months, reporters at the university's student-run newspaper and television station have been trying to do their jobs with their hands tied. 

Mariah Valles, along with other reporters for the Observer and Central News Watch organized the protest they hope will bring attention to the ongoing issues they've been facing with the university's administration. 

To interview any employee, faculty or student athlete, the university wants reporters to give questions in advance — something they're not willing to do. 

"The biggest thing for us is we're gearing up to go into the real world of journalism. This doesn't happen in the real world of journalism,"said Valles. "It's important in the era of fake news. We need to learn how to report accurately and in depth."

Valles said the problem with sending in interview questions is that it makes the interviews not genuine. 

Journalism instructor Cynthia Mitchell rallied alongside the student journalists. 

"They work really hard to get things right, and they do not get accused left and right of getting things wrong. So they did nothing to deserve this," said Mitchell. 

Student press freedom advocate Lindsie Rank with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said they've seen student journalists from a number of colleges throughout the country go through similar issues with their universities.

"In especially egregious situations we're seeing policies like this one, where a university is actually requiring journalists including students journalists to hand over interview questions for approval before an interview is granted," said Rank. 

She said this becomes a problem because it's really a version of prior review, which is when officials want to look at what is going to be published before it's published. She said it opens the students up to prior restraint as well, where the officials would actually come in and say they can't publish something. 

Reporters have tried to resolve things diplomatically in meetings with administrators but to no avail. 

They posted a lengthy article Wednesday saying they "stand for a free and unregulated press."

University administrators said in a statement on Thursday in response to the protests that they haven't been censoring student journalists. 

"The intent is not to require that all questions be submitted in advance but rather to offer some context for the interview so the person being interviewed can provide informed responses. Again, we do not censor student media. We work collaboratively with all student media and respond to all media requests," the university said in its statement. 

The reporters said they won't stop fighting for their First Amendment rights until they are heard. 

Rank said the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is prepared to step in to help the students if the issue continues. They've already jumped in to help Loyola University Chicago student journalists, and the university, in turn, revised the policy in question.

Several alumni have also voiced their support for the student journalists. 

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