Developing your core

While your state’s scholastic press association is a good place to start, there are other resources for developing the core group that will work to pass legislation. 

  1. Start with your school – Reach out to colleagues and even administrators if you think they might be receptive. Make it clear that this isn’t just a student journalism issue, but one that involves civic education, student voice and rights. Social studies teachers should be interested in this. One of my colleagues and friends, Darrell DeTample, is a Political Science AP Government teacher. He has students work on projects involving local and state politics. We found our first sponsor when Assemblywoman Donna Simon visited his class and was asked if she would support legislation to protect student journalists. Later, Darrell had his students review the bill when it was in the draft stage, and make suggestions for changes. Darrell has been a vital and active member of our core group. His knowledge of state politics and politicians and connections with civic education leaders has been invaluable.
  2. Reach out to college newspapers and collegiate press associations – Find out which public colleges and universities have student newspapers and contact the editors. New Voices legislation protects public institutions of high learning as well as high school students. Highlight issues with the college press in your state or on a national level and encourage student editors to provide whatever level of support they can. In fact, recent developments on college campuses led to the College Media Association, American Associations of University Professors, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Student Press Law Center to issue a report, “Threats to the Independence of Student Media” that describes the current landscape and the need for New Voices legislation. In addition to the organizations involved in this report, many states also have state Collegiate Press Associations and the Associated Collegiate Press may also be a resource that can be used to develop a core group of supporters.
  3. Contact professional journalism associations – The Society of Professional Journalists has endorsed New Voices legislation on the national level and has been involved in supporting it through their New Jersey chapter. New Jersey also has a professional press association that has offered support.
  4. Education associations – The largest teacher association in New Jersey is the NJEA. State associations can be powerful and have a lot of resources, but they also are involved in a lot of other issues (at least in New Jersey). Still, it is important to reach out to them. Trying to find someone to talk to through their website was frustrating at first, so I tried going through my local and county association representatives. Eventually, we were put in touch with Beth Schroeder Buonsante , the Associate Director for Government Relations, who was helpful in providing advice on choosing sponsors and navigating the legislative process. She set up a meeting for us with the Working Conditions Committee, and we got a favorable response. While Beth is not a part of our core group, she has been a valuable resource and contact to a powerful organization in our state. Other education groups include the National Council of Teachers of English who have endorsed the legislation, and the National Council of Social Studies – both organizations have state chapters. The American Political Science Association might also offer support, and they have a page that lists links to other civic education organizations.
  5. Civil Rights Organizations – Local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union can offer support. Sometimes the ACLU is not looked at favorably by conservative legislators, but you at least want to contact all of your potential allies to make them aware of potential legislation, and you may find someone who has the passion and experience to become part of your core group. Other organizations that support civil rights include the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (which focuses on higher education) and of course, the Student Press Law Center which is a primary sponsor of New Voices legislation. Frank LoMonte is a valuable resource to contact for anyone beginning this journey.

While it is important to reach out to many of these organizations for support, JEA recommends that “it is best to keep the group relatively small and of a like mind as to the goal of the legislation.” Certainly, that has been true in my experience. Our core group consists of myself, John Tagliareni, and Darrell DeTample. As the legislation has progressed, we have reached out to other groups and continue to do so as we head into education committee hearings.

Start with your state’s scholastic press association

One of your best resources for developing a network of support is your state’s scholastic press association. Contact them, find out where and when they hold board meetings and attend one (if at all possible) to discuss the need for New Voices legislation in your state.

As I mentioned on the home page, this is where everything started for me. Even before North Dakota passed its bill sparking New Voices movement, I brought up the topic at a Garden State Scholastic Press Association board meeting. It had been a difficult couple of years for student journalists and their advisers in New Jersey. In 2013, I resigned as adviser of the school newspaper after a new administration insisted on more editorial control, and then in 2014 an adviser in South Jersey was removed from his position for supporting his students’ right to fight censorship, and an adviser in another part of the state was pressured to resign after his students fought censorship. So the need for legislation was apparent in the summer of 2014 and for me it was personal.

It had been a difficult couple of years for student journalists and their advisers in New Jersey. I resigned my position after a new administration insisted on more editorial control, an adviser in South Jersey was removed from his position for supporting his students’ right to fight censorship, and an adviser in another part of the state was pressured to resign after his students fought censorship. So the need was apparent in the summer of 2014, and for me it was personal.

And while the board was certainly receptive and supportive to the idea of state legislation, there was one board member who knew what it would take and was willing to go much further. I was fortunate enough that the Executive Board of the GSSPA had a member who had tried to enact scholastic press rights legislation in the wake of Hazelwood decision – and came very close to succeeding. And now, some 25 years later, he was ready to try again.

While John Tagliareni was retired from teaching and advising, he was still very active in the GSSPA and the JEA serving as a member of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee. With him as a partner, the desire for legislation now had direction, focus, experience, and purpose. Admittedly, I was very lucky, but even if you don’t find someone with the qualification and characteristics of a John Tagliareni, your state’s scholastic press association can be a valuable resource to find

Admittedly, I was very lucky, but even if you don’t find someone with the qualification and characteristics of a John Tagliareni, your state’s scholastic press association can be a valuable resource to find a network of support and hopefully someone you can count as a member of your “core group” which JEA lists as step one in their “Promoting Scholastic Press Rights Legislation: A Blueprint for Success.

Certainly, state scholastic press rights associations are a great place to start to develop this core group, but they are by no means are they the only resources. Click here for other ideas.