California student Lucy Jaffee interviewed renowned free-speech expert Floyd Abrams to write a forward-looking article on a landmark court case.

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Lucy Jaffee

Lucy Jaffee was researching a complicated U.S. court case involving students’ right to freedom of speech.

Eager to produce an original and forward-looking article, the California high school student screwed up her courage and called the best-known First Amendment lawyer in the United States, Floyd Abrams, for an interview.

Her exemplary efforts in writing the article “Can a school punish a student for online speech off campus?” have won Jaffee, a student at La Jolla Country Day School, this month’s Decoder in the Spotlight award.

In its work with partner schools, News Decoder urges students to gather original material, especially through interviews, in order to produce distinctive multimedia articles that break new ground.

Lucy Jaffee interviewed free-speech scholar.

Working with News Decoder correspondent Betty Wong, Jaffee did just that.

In their phone conversation, Abrams, who argued both the Pentagon Papers and the Citizens United cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, offered Jaffee his views on the landmark free-speech case concerning whether schools can punish students for off-campus social media posts.

Mentorships between experienced journalists and students is one way News Decoder helps young people around the world better understand complex global issues.

As it turned out, Wong had interviewed Abrams years earlier during her distinguished career as a journalist at the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, and she urged Jaffee to contact the pre-eminent First Amendment attorney.

Editor-in-chief of her school paper, Jaffee is in her second-to-last year of high school and interested in civic engagement and government. She is one of News Decoder’s Student Ambassadors, who promote the not-for-profit’s work at its 19 partner schools in 14 countries.

The fine line between being a student and a citizen.

We asked Jaffee about her story and involvement with News Decoder.

Q: Why do you think this is an important topic?

Jaffee: As the Internet functions more and more like a public forum and social outlet for teenagers, I think it’s important to understand where the boundaries between your identity as a citizen and your identity as a student exist. It relates to the broader issues of (1) how students are treated versus standard adults and (2) whether certain information needs to be censored. 

Q: How did News Decoder connect you to the constitutional lawyer and First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams?

Jaffee: Instead of writing my assumption of the significance of the B.L. v. Mahanoy case, News Decoder suggested I speak with an expert who could offer a more definitive perspective on the situation. The correspondent I was working with, Betty Wong, had interviewed Abrams years ago and suggested I reach out, as he is renowned in the First Amendment field. I emailed him and was lucky enough to score a phone interview with him a few days later. 

Q: How was News Decoder useful in your understanding of the topic/situation?

Jaffee: News Decoder encouraged me to see different perspectives on the topic, like interviewing and requesting information from multiple sources before drawing conclusions. They urged me to focus less on historical background and write a story only I could write with the information I collected, resulting in a forward-thinking and more newsworthy article. 

‘News Decoder helped me address a global audience.’

Q: How did News Decoder help you connect this issue to a global audience? 

Jaffee: Throughout my writing process, News Decoder reminded me to include accessible historical context about U.S. policies surrounding freedom of speech to a global audience. It’s important to remember that the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s processes may be utterly foreign to someone outside the U.S. 

Q: What do you think is the most pressing global issue right now?

Jaffee: I think the most pressing global issue at the moment is civil rights. Ongoing racism and general intolerance of marginalized groups continue without any tangible or effective remedies. Ensuring everyone, regardless of their identity, receives the same opportunities, freedom and privilege is of utmost importance worldwide. 

Q: What do you think people should know about News Decoder?

Jaffee: News Decoder is an informative and reliable news source and platform for young people to involve themselves with multimedia. I think it is unique because everything on their site is produced and executed by students worldwide and highlights non-traditional stories. Reading News Decoder’s articles or writing one yourself, you are bound to learn something new or see a subject differently than before.

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Tendayi Chirawu is News Decoder’s Communications and School Engagement Manager. A citizen of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, she has a masters degree in Global Communication & Civil Society from the American University of Paris. She joined News Decoder in July and has experience working for non-profit and for-profit organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Chirawu is a published author and has written for international news publications.

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Human Rights Decoder Spotlight: Lucy Jaffee scores free-speech interview