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Diverse thinking, open eyes key
to pursuing Hazelwood legislation

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

sprclogoAh, fall.

Football, the World Series, Homecoming, and Halloween are all traditions and events synonymous with autumn.

There seems, however, to be another occurrence that becomes front and enter as the leaves change color:  Drives for legislation that gives scholastic journalists that opportunity to practice uninhibited free and responsible journalism.

Call it what you want — Freedom of Express Legislation, Student Press Right Legislation, Education Readiness or First Amendment Preservation – but the reality is the outcome is the same. Overturn Hazelwood.

The success in North Dakota has apparently infused other states with a surge of energy and interest in hitting the state house.  SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte reports that efforts or interest in legislation are under way in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida and Illinois.

The success in North Dakota has apparently infused other states with a surge of energy and interest in hitting the state house.  SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte reports that efforts or interest in legislation are under way in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida and Illinois.

LoMonte notes that efforts to sway state lawmakers away from Hazelwood need to be carefully planned when it comes to substance and methodology.  A key, he notes, is to make sure the game plan is diverse.  While the effort puts scholastic journalism front and center, it’s important key to show how legislation benefits journalism as a whole.

Is there a magic formula that will guarantee passage?  Of course not.  The Illinois Journalism Education Association’s Legislation Committee, for example, will look at multiple parts to the equation that need to be put into place.  While it’s essential, and this is not rocket science, to find supportive legislators, the best place to start is at home.  For example, reaching out to your local legislators is a good idea because they should have a vested interest in working with their constituency.

And while there is comfort in working with peers that you are familiar with, such as other journalism educators, we’ll be looking to establish a broad and diverse base of support.  In addition to soliciting the support of scholastic press associations (SPAs), organizers of legislative efforts should, LoMonte says, look at allied journalism groups as well.  Collegiate press associations as well as professional media organizations should be included as well.  Gaining support from stakeholders who will benefit from well-rounded scholastic journalists will hopefully show legislators that there is a long-term benefit to the bill and that the intent s pro-active and not merely s reaction to a specific issue, school or administrator.

When identifying the aforementioned organizations, the IJEA Legislation Committee will also consider the audiences they serve.  Collegiate organizations should, for example, should include those that serve both two-year and four-year schools.  Utilizing student chapters of associations like the Society of Professional Journalists, maintain a not only student connection, but a link to professional journalism as well.

Remember those parents who used to bring pizza to layout?  They can be a resource as well.

Remember those parents who used to bring pizza to layout?  They can be a resource as well.  Don’t expect all of your former students to jump on board, because they won’t.  Those who do, however, can be independent voices of support.

One thing we’ll be doing in Illinois is encouraging advisers to contact alumni — but not just those working in journalism.  Former students who may work in other professions such as public relations, and law for example can not only provide support, but also resources and possibly pro-bono services to aid your efforts.

Sound like a daunting task?  It is and it is one that will require you and your committee to keep your eyes wide open for diverse support, ideas, and perhaps most importantly — patience.

In the long run, however, it will be worth the effort.

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