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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.