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What’s old is still new


by Stan Zoller, MJE

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Another step in removing the shackles

Hawaii is the sixteenth state to pass New Voices protection recently. The task to protect all student news media is not new and is unfinished. The signing in Hawaii is a huge success, but there is still a long way to go. Today’s students represent a new generation, but their voices aren’t new – they’re continuing – as is the struggle for press freedom. Photo by Kindel Media on

Amidst the recent onslaught of disturbing news stories – whether it’s the carnage in Ukraine, the killing of 10 shoppers in grocery story or the gut-wrenching and senseless murders of 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers in a Texas elementary school – we try to look for a ray, if possible, of good news.

It’s not easy. 

If we can somehow take a deep breath and look to the west, we’ll find that there is a faint ray of good news emanating from Hawaii which became the 16th state to pass a “New Voices” bill into law.

It’s a small consolation and does not take the sting out of the horrific events. However, from a scholastic journalism standpoint, it is, obviously, welcome news.

And while Hawaii is the 16th state join the ranks of “New Voices” status, the question is this: while the laws are new, are the voices? 

Support for a strong press isn’t new.  Consider this “new voice” calling for liberty of the press:

“…On the subject of the liberty of the press, as much as has been said, I cannot forbear adding a remark or two: in the first place, I observe, that there is not a syllable concerning it in the constitution of this State; in the next, I contend, that whatever has been said about it in that of any other State, amounts to nothing. What signifies a declaration, that “the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved”? What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable; and from this I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government. And here, after all, as is intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights…”

Recognize it? It’s not someone who is on the SPRC, or works with the SPLC. The person has never attended a JEA convention.

They’re the words of Alexander Hamilton writing in Federalist essay No. 84. Hamilton knew the importance of including liberty of the press in the Constitution. The First Amendment, adopted Dec. 15, 1791, was written by James Madison, one of three writers of the Federalist Papers along with John Jay and Hamilton. 

One could argue that these three could be considered the first “new voices.” Today’s new voices are of a new generation facing challenges relating to the liberty of the press, albeit student media. And while they’re voices of a new generation, the challenges, sadly, remain the same.

Hamilton saw concern that liberty of the press wasn’t addressed by any of the states at the time, nor was it in the United States Constitution. How much input Hamilton had on the First Amendment is a source of debate among historians. However, it is generally believed the Founding Fathers saw (fortunately) a need for it based on a litany of events of abuses of various rights under the monarchies in England.

It could be argued that a four-year effort to add the First Amendment to the Constitution could indicate it was not a priority with the Founding Fathers despite the fact the Federalist Papers were written before the ratification of the Constitution. They were written and published from October 1787 to May 1788. The Constitution was ratified June 21, 1788.

The fact Madison, Hamilton and Jay led the charge for ratification may have helped establish the framework, but it still, as previously noted, it took more than three years for the First Amendment to be adopted (Dec. 15, 1791.)

It was, in some ways, the first “New Voices” campaign. And while it addressed a different audience (can you imagine a school board meeting in the late 1700s?), the basic premise was the same – a free, responsible and liberated press are essential in a democracy.

The signing in Hawaii is a huge success, but there is still a long way to go. Today’s students represent a new generation, but their voices aren’t new – they’re continuing – as is the struggle for press freedom.