Any movement is stronger — and more effective — when it is diverse
SPECIAL EDITION: New Voices Kickoff #2!
Student press freedom is a First Amendment issue, an education issue, a media literacy issue, an open government issue, a public safety issue, a civic engagement issue, a racial and gender justice issue, and more. So why are only student journalists talking about it?
Any movement is stronger — and more effective — when it is diverse. Partner organizations raise arguments for a free student press that are otherwise ignored by legislators who haven’t thought about the student press since they were students themselves (and maybe not even then). In addition, organizations with a presence at your state house or state capital may be able to shed some light on what happens behind closed doors in your state, who you should target, and what might be holding your legislation up. A few phone calls with them - and the right asks - may help you catapult your advocacy forward in new and exciting ways.
But outside of the journalism world, most people aren’t aware of Hazelwood or what the censorship of student journalists means to their community. It is on us to bring them in. Below are are some tips and tricks for getting these organizations involved.
Here’s a place to start: Does your state Bar Association testify in support of this bill? They should! In 2018 the American Bar Association passed a resolution that “urges all state, local, territorial and tribal legislative bodies to enact statutes and school districts to adopt” policies protecting the student media from censorship. That may be very persuasive to your legislator, but not if they don’t hear from your state chapter. Reach out to your state bar association today to get things started (For more on how to find your state bar’s lobbyists, see “Who has a presence at the legislature?” below.)
Questions to ask yourself
Who should care about New Voices?
What is the story you would write if nobody would stop you - and who should care? That’s who should be involved in New Voices. If you want to write about misuse of funds or administrative misconduct, open government groups care deeply about these issues. If you want to write about racial and gender justice on campus, a number of groups may have something to say about that. If you’re hearing a lot right now about the need for media literacy and civics education, there’s no faster way to undermine both initiatives than by censoring the student press. And, of course, any group concerned with the freedom of the press should care about the free student press.
Who has a presence at the legislature?
Groups who already lobby know how to do this, have the bandwidth to take on a new bill, and may be able to help you navigate some of the trickier parts of your state house or state capital building.
The most comprehensive way to see who is already lobbying the legislature is to go through your state’s lobbyist reporting database, also sometimes called a “sunshine” or ethics database. Lobbyists and the organizations they represent - often known to the state as “lobby firms” or “entities” - have to register with the state government and report on their activities. These reports are public, and a great way to find out the contact information of person you should reach out to. The best way to find your state’s is to Google “[your state] lobbyist reports.”
You can also get a good sense of who who your legislators listen to by seeing who they follow on social media.
Who counteracts our opposition?
If you already know the arguments your opponents will make, target organizations or individuals that can refute those talking points. Retired superintendents and principals may be willing to weigh in on what happened when they trusted their student media. Parent groups can counteract the perception that angry parents will call the principal over any controversial essay. Youth advocacy groups can skewer the perception that students are inherently too immature for a free press. Identify the three major arguments opponents have against the bill, and think about who can speak to those concerns so you don’t have to.
Who do I have a connection to (however tenuous)?
Did you spend time at the YMCA/YWCA or Boys and Girls Club? Did you attend a webinar or training with a racial justice or voting rights group? Is your neighbor parts of an artist’s group? Has your house of worship been talking a lot about the need for local journalism? Think about who you already have a connection with and strike up a conversation about New Voices. Give them a chance to get involved!
What can I do on the county or city level to put pressure?
City, county and town councils often pass resolutions in support of statewide legislation as a way to signal to their communities where they stand on the issue. Resolutions from several communities are also a great way to show the broad support for your legislation. Take a look at our model council resolution and consider reaching out to your city, county or town council member to talk with them about New Voices and encourage them to weigh in.
Task of the day
Make a list of potential partners.
Write down as many advocacy groups or organizations as you can name off the top of your head. They do not have to have an obvious connection to New Voices or clear role in New Voices advocacy yet. Keep this as a living document you can add to as new names pop up. When you have at least ten, ask yourself what they can bring to the New Voices table.
Choose 3-5, and reach out to them.
Start small with the organizations that make the most sense to you. Find the contact information for their lobbyist, advocacy head, or director, and send an email just as you would if you were contacting a new legislator.